Fighting comes naturally, peacefully resolving conflict does not. I am sure that you can remember all too well fights that you have had in your own relationship. The problem with fighting is that no one wants to “lose” the fight so we lock into combat that almost always escalates into dysfunction. That dysfunction can be screaming, throwing things, cursing and/or hitting a spouse. I had a couple as a client locked into dysfunction. The woman had gotten into a pattern of screaming, cursing and throwing things. The husband admirably did not hit her, but tried to keep the peace because of what the wife’s tirades and tantrums did to the children. She once broke her own finger by repeatedly slamming the front door harder and harder. Problems were never resolved, she just bullied the husband to get her own way. I could not reach her and they ultimately got a divorce. She continued these patterns in a subsequent marriage.
I always tell my clients to first go and study two movies from the rental store: THE BREAK UP, and WAR OF THE ROSES. You can see art imitating life. Study these movies and see yourselves portrayed in these movies. Watch and see the mistakes that they have made and that you have made similar mistakes as well. Children are terrified when they hear parents fighting. Remember the scene from PRINCE OF TIDES when the young children ran and jumped into the bay. They lived in an idyllic setting on an island. They escaped by running out of the house and jumping into the water. Most children don’t have that option and simply suffer through the fights, terrified.
To avoid those problems and dysfunction, I have listed some techniques that are guaranteed to work if you will use them. I tell my clients that they both need to agree to changing their ways. They also need to forgive each other and have the old familiar slogan from the playground: A DO OVER. Admit that you have both made mistakes and that as a couple you want a do over and agree to rules that I have listed for peacefully resolving the conflict. A great idea is to adopt the physicians vow about dealing with your conflicts; “ First, do no harm.”
When a spouse is angry with you, the first rule is to SHUT UP AND LISTEN. I know that it is hard to do. You need to let them get out everything that bothers them before you counter their arguments. Once they are done, ask to repeat back what they said so that you and the spouse are sure that you understand the problem. Then ask: “In what way can we resolve this problem”? This goes a long way to resolving the problem. Calmly discuss solutions. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger” Proverbs 15:1
AGREE TO DISAGREE
Too many times people are locked into winning. The problem with winning is that there is also a loser who will feel humiliated.
Better to “agree to disagree”. In this way, neither party feels like they have “lost” the argument.
FLIPPING A COIN
If negotiating has not worked and the person is still adamant that they want a solution the Bible has a solution: “The lot causes contentions to cease and parts the mighty.” Proverbs
Casting lots was a dice game, but a modern day corollary would be a flip of the coin to settle the issue. You both have to agree in advance that this will settle the issue, and then stick to it.
When you are in a discussion where you both have a point of view that you feel strongly about, there is another alternative. You can agree to negotiate the argument for a peaceful settlement. You can do this by adopting a 10 scale. You each assign a numerical value form 1-10 depending on how firmly you believe your side is worth. You have to give an honest evaluation. Using a 10 where there is absolutely no room for negotiation, to a 1 scale where you could go either way. Come up with a legitimate number to assess your position. Suppose your
spouse is at a 7 and you are at a 4 then you agree to give in to the spouse’s 7 to make for a peaceful resolution.
SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE
Another good way to resolve the argument is to simply compromise half way between the two points of view. Both parties feel like they got something and don’t feel humiliated.
The Ten Commandments for Fair Fighting
1. Never argue in front of the children, it harms and scares them.
2. Don’t ever hit your spouse.
3. Don’t curse at or call your spouse names, it is abusive.
4. Don’t attempt to get your way by bullying your spouse.
5. Don’t withhold sex to get your way.
6. Do not scream at your spouse it is abusive.
7. Do not interrupt; it is disrespectful, listen until they are done.
8. Do not take revenge for perceived hurts.
9. Develop a peacemaking attitude with questions like: How can we resolve this?
10. Don’t give people the “silent treatment”. It is revenge and it is emotionally abusive.
I have re-written an old nursery rhyme that is more appropriate: Sticks and stones can only break your bones but words can wound a spirit, break a heart or kill a relationship.
Remember, your job as a spouse is to nurture your spouse. You can’t do that when you are being self centered. According to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, self centeredness is a leading cause of divorce. You also don’t nurture your spouse when you attempt to bully them in an argument instead of peacefully resolving the conflict while respecting them and their feelings.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man (woman) be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. James 1:19
The big problem is that the vast majority of people don’t heed the above scriptural mandate. Most people are doing just the opposite: they are quick to anger, quick to speak and slow to listen. If you can follow the scriptural mandate, you will be amazed at how much better your marriage works.
Finally, if you can’t resolve an argument, then seek out the services of a marriage coach. Avoid marriage counselors at all costs. The dirty little secret in the industry is that marriage counselors have a 75% failure rate according to some leading counselors turned Marriage Coaches like Dr. Willard Harley, author of HIS NEEDS, HER NEEDS and Michelle Weiner Davis, author of DIVORCE BUSTING. Marriage counselors have you come back for weeks and talk about feelings. Coaches concentrate on resolving problems in a short period of time. Ifyou need help, put into your search engine and look for marriage coaches, or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org