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Constructive Fighting in Marriage

Constructive Fighting in Marriage

By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.

Every marriage will have its share of conflicts, disagreements and frustrations. My job as a therapist is to teach spouses how to deal with their anger in constructive, healthy ways rather than either ignore it or fight destructively. What follows is a list of rules I have them agree to use whenever they get into a fight:

There is to be no touching, throwing, blocking, name-calling or belittling in anger. In effect, no physical or emotional abuse. Abuse is the quickest, most effective way to weaken love and leave emotional scars on both the abusee and the abuser.

When expressing strong emotions, use I statements and avoid You statements. An I statement is a direct expression of your feelings without attacking the other person. For example, "I feel hurt, sad, angry, etc. about what you did and I want you to do this instead." By contrast, a You statement is a direct attack on the other person and an indirect expression of your emotions: " You idiot. You're selfish. You only care about yourself. You're just like your father (or mother)."

Stick to one issue at a time. Also, avoid past issues and stick to the one present issue. Your fight will never be resolved if you touch on a number of issues but fail to stick to one.
Attempt to empathize with your spouse's emotions and point of view. Along with I statements, this is probably one of the most important abilities needed to effectively resolve conflicts. It sure is nice to feel you have been heard and understood by your spouse, especially in the midst of an argument.

Allow each other sufficient time to speak. In other words, no interruptions. No filibustering either as five minutes should be sufficient time for each of you to make your point.
Focus on yourself first in a fight, rather than the other, to determine what's going on psychologically with you. Be fully aware of what you are thinking, feeling, remembering or imagining that causes you to be so angry. What is it you want from your spouse and what are you willing to give or change? You'll fight more effectively if you're clear about your own position and willing to listen to your spouse's position.

Don't threaten a divorce during a fight. You probably really don't mean it and are just trying to control your spouse by your threat.

Schedule sufficient, convenient time for a fight. Right before bedtime or when it's 7:30 A.M. and you have to be to work at 8 A.M. are not good times to start a fight. Reschedule it for another time.

Break off a fight after twenty to thirty minutes if it is obvious the fighting is getting worse and reschedule another time to continue within twenty-four hours. Anger can snowball so you have the right to take a break if you're too upset or uncomfortable. You have an obligation to agree to resume your argument, however, so the issue is not dropped. Also, you have the right to postpone a fight if your too angry, too tired or want to think clearly first.

At the end of the fight, when you both have had your say and feel you have been heard by your spouse, attempt to arrive at a joint decision or solution to the problem that caused the fight. You may have to be willing to compromise to accomplish this, to settle for less than you had originally wanted.

Now that you have all the rules you need for fair, effective fighting, guess what? In the heat of battle, when emotions are running high, you may not be able to follow them! But don't despair. In my next article, I'll tell what to do after you've broken some of these rules.


About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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