I don’t want to stun you all, but couples argue. Some couples argue more than others, but I don’t know a single long term couple that hasn’t gotten into some big arguments. When you spend as much time with someone as you do with your significant other, it is inevitable that you will have some pretty major disagreements. Once you have young children the arguments increase. First off, when the kids are real young, you are both exhausted, emotionally drained, and just a bit more on edge overall. Furthermore, the amount of important discussions you have to make increase exponentially when child care is involved.
Just remember, your kids see you interact in both your positive and negative interactions. It’s important to set examples of how loving adults treat each other. Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way. I am not saying they are all perfect, and I am definitely not saying I don’t break my own rules from time to time, but I think these are some good guidelines. Even if you don’t have kids, I think these can be helpful.
1. Remember What You Are Arguing About, And Stick To The Topic
When discussions turn into arguments (I really don’t like using the word “fights”, it’s just over the top negative and has a violent connotation) everything seems to come out. The argument may be about doing the dishes, and before you know it you are talking about the time one of you left the diaper bag at the zoo. I firmly believe in a one month statute of limitations on 99% of relationship issues. If you didn’t bring it up in a month, don’t save it for 8 months down the line. You decided it wasn’t important enough to discuss (and you were probably right), so it definitely isn’t important enough down the road. There are some exceptions, but overall it’s a good policy.
So, keep it relevant, and if you find yourself drifting into that realm of unrelated material, try and come back to the main topic. You cannot discuss all the issues at once, and adding more fuel to the fire just makes people angrier. The angrier people get, the less productive discussion becomes. People tend to do this when the old “Give Me An Example!” line comes out. That line is generally pretty inflammatory to begin with, since it’s never a legitimate request once people are upset. It’s just a very roundabout way of claiming that “I don’t do the thing you are accusing me of”.
2. Don’t Make It Personal
Ok… this one is really hard when you are married or in a long term relationship. This is because everything is personal between you and your spouse. Still, there are lines you shouldn’t cross. Be careful with the use of the word “you” as in “You always do this!” or “You don’t care about…” Once the accusations start, it’s really hard to be productive.
Try and talk about the situation in general, and why the situation, not the person is upsetting you. It’s a lot easier for people to talk about topics and not directly about themselves. Even if their behavior needs addressing, that’s really hard to do when both people are upset.
On this same topic, do not insult each other. I hear couples say things to each other I wouldn’t even say to people I disliked, let alone people I love. Don’t call each other names or use other insults. You have taken a discussion and made it a direct personal attack. Nothing is getting done after that point.
3. Don’t Yell
This one is really big to me. Nobody likes to be yelled at. I especially have a hot button for it. I don’t know why exactly, but if someone yells at me, I shutdown or get very angry. Once I’ve been yelled at there is pretty much no way I am going to bend to your request in any fashion. In return, I really do not raise my voice to other people (anyone who knows me, knows I am naturally loud on a pretty absurd level to begin with). When people get passionate about certain topics they are inclined to yell about them. The problem is that once people are yelling, the discussion falls apart.
Keep a civil tone, try not to cut the other person off, and you’d be amazed how many discussions that could have been blow outs just stay as discussions.
4. It’s Not About Winning
The idea of “winning an argument” in a relationship is laughable. Seriously, what was the last argument you “won” where both people changed for the better and/or decisions were made in the most productive way possible. The old adage for men as it pertains to women is “You can be right or you can be happy.” I don’t quite think it’s that much of a one-way street, but the sentiment has some merit. It’s not like I’m in a great mood either if someone proves me wrong.
For the most part, discussions in a relationship shouldn’t be about who’s right or wrong. They should be about figuring out what is best for you, your spouse, and your family as a whole. Some topics are binary, either you do it one way, or you do it the other. However, the vast majority of topics are not, and have plenty of room for compromise. If both people feel like they got parts of what they wanted, then nobody has to feel terrible when it is done.
5. Sometimes It’s OK to Leave for a Little Bit
OK, confession time. This post was inspired by my wife and I having one of our “We haven’t had a good argument in a few months, so let’s just go for it!” evenings the other night. We were both pretty upset with each other. While my daughter was awake we sat quietly with slightly more tension than American/Russian relations in the 1980’s, but after I put her to bed, I left for a bit. There was no productive talk that was going to happen with me as upset as I was.
I told my wife I loved her, and I went out for half an hour or so. I just needed to not be in the house. When I got back, we were still upset, but at least we could talk and start to work things out.
6. Remember You Love Each Other
There are some couples out there that don’t love each other. They should have split up years ago, and are only together for any of a multitude of reasons. If you aren’t in one of those relationships, then you love your spouse. So during those days (or sometimes weeks) where the two of you just can’t seem to get on each others good side, just remember you love each other. Say it at night, in the morning, go do something you like together, or maybe just do something a little extra nice after things cool off. The important part is that the arguments should be temporary bumps, and not massive craters in your relationship.
Arguments happen, and they will continue to happen. However, there are productive and less productive ways to go about them. Your kids watch you interact with your spouse, and it will be a huge influence on how they treat and allow themselves to be treated by their partners in the future. So do the best you can to show them how two adults who love each other behave when they have completely driven each other up the wall.