How to Fight Fair in your Marriage, Communication

All couples have disagreements, but the ones who learn to solve their problems by fighting differently and fair are the ones who tend to stick together.  In this episode I share 5 steps to fighting fair with your spouse.

Show Notes:

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Show Summary:

So we are going to continue with our podcasts on communication.  In this installment I want to talk about the best ways to have a disagreement.

Dr. John Gottman, after studying couples for the last 40 years says that even happy couples do not follow the experts rules of communication (like empathetic listening which we talked about in episode 27) which is why I want to give you a variety of different techniques to try.  Some will resonate with you, some won’t.  Some are harder than others.  But if you practice them, it will be worth your while.  And you’ll find what works best for you.

All couples have disagreements, but the ones who learn to solve their problems by fighting differently and fare are the ones who tend to stick together.  

Casey Caston – a marriage therapist says “If you want to make a better marriage, you have to make a better you.“ 

So we are going to talk about some ways to have those difficult conversations.  How to make them better and how to fight fare.  

The first thing that Dr. Gottman recommends is that you are going to have a hard conversation, you soften your start-up.  How a conversation starts predicts how its going to end.

If you have a hard start up, which is a conversation that starts with what Dr. Gottman calls the four-horseman:

  • criticism
  • contempt
  • defensiveness
  • or stonewalling  

it can cause flooding. 

So the first tip I have for you to fight fare is:

Step 1: Maintain Control

If you are in a disagreement with your spouse and you find yourself feeling a flood of emotions, you are moving into fight or flight mode.

In this state, the blood begins to leave the part of the brain that regulates emotional control and you really don’t have the capacity to handle the situation successfully.

Maintaining control of yourself during an argument is crucial to fighting fare, so you need to recognize when flooding is happening and take a time out.  Calm yourself down before proceeding.

Or better yet, do a soft-start up instead of a harsh start-up so you don’t get flooding and lose control in the first place.

A soft-start up is when a partner starts the conversation gently.  It communicates respect and causes both partners to feel positive about themselves and their marriage.

So how do you do that? You do things like

  • Take responsibility
  • Complain without blame
  • Start with “I” instead of “you”
  • Describe things from your perspective without judgement or blame.
  • Be polite
  • Be appreciative
  • Don’t let things build up

So let’s compare the 2

A harsh start up might look like – Why do I always have to clean up after you?

Where a soft start up might look – I feel like I am doing all the cleaning myself.  I should have asked sooner but could you help me pick up the house a little bit?  It’s such big help to me when you do.  Thank you.  I love you.

Step 2: Don’t Interrupt

We talked about this in the empathetic listening episode, but when you interrupt your partner you are listening to them in order to respond rather to understand where they are coming from.  Interrupting is a way to try and dominate and control your partner and the conversation.  

You aren’t allowing your partner to express what they need to say, and you step in and try to control that.

So in this case – let your partner talk and listen empathetically.

Step 3: Do not bring up the past

Bringing up the past is because you still have past hurts and you are using them as a way to attack your partner during an argument.  It can also mean there is an underlying problem of not forgiving.

While it may be tempting to do, it takes the focus away from the original argument, the issue at hand.  You need to deal with one issue at a time.

So stay on topic.  

Step 4: Do not criticize

And this goes along with the harsh start-up as well.  But when you criticize your partner, you are no longer arguing constructively.  You’re just fighting dirty.

You are basically saying “It’s really not about the issue, its about you” which is not going to fix the problem.

Step 5: Apologize

Learning to recognize and take responsibility for when you’ve hurt your partner is crucial.  It is often the easiest way to resolve a conflict, but it can be the hardest to do.

When you apologize, your partner is no longer the enemy and defenses drop.  When you have acknowledged their hurt, connection is restored and trust is built as well.

Dr. Gottman says you need to learn to send and receive repair attempts.  So in the situation we mentioned earlier even if your partner had a harsh start-up like “Why do you always do this” instead of you coming back harshly to them you can say “You’re right, I do” or “I can see how you would see it that way”  This is a repair attempt and it quickly de-escaltes the situation and helps everyone be more open to finding a solution.

In Summary – Do a soft start up.  But if that doesn’t happen.

  • Keep your cool and maintain control
  • Be polite, don’t interrupt
  • Focus on the present and the issue at hand
  • Don’t lash out, don’t criticize
  • Say you’re sorry, and try to repair things to de-escalate the issue.

Next week we are going to have another installment on communication, and I am so excited.  I’ve interviewed Tony Overbay, from the podcast the Virtual Couch.  He is a marriage and family therapist and is going to be talk to us about emotionally focus therapy, which he has seen great results in his couple counseling with this technique.  So I can’t wait to share that with you next week.

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