Fighting is a normal part of marriage. Living with another person inevitably leads to differences of opinion, misunderstandings and sometimes hurt feelings. There is a difference, however, between healthy, productive fighting and hurtful, mean-spirited fighting that leads to more misunderstanding and negativity. People often don't fight fairly because they don’t understand what they are really fighting about. Feelings of rejection or hurt are sometimes diverted into fights about how your spouse squeezes the toothpaste bottle.
Being aware of what it is that you are truly upset about can help you avoid fighting about issues that don’t really matter. The following tips will provide some additional tools to help you keep fighting to a healthy minimum in your relationship.
1. Be aware of the mood of your spouse
Some women become moody, irritable or emotional during certain portions of their menstrual cycle. Men also have times when they are less than rational. Some men become extra cranky if they haven’t eaten, haven’t had sex in a while or are experiencing stress at work. Try to avoid discussing sensitive issues at these times. And if your spouse tells you that you are not acting like yourself, instead of becoming offended, consider that he or she might be right.
2. Know when to surrender
There really aren't that many issues worth fighting over. Choose your battles wisely. Think back to your last fight: Does it still seem urgent and compelling to you? Do you even remember it? If you don't have to concede your values or your dignity, surrendering can bring much peace of mind. If you know that something is very important to your spouse but doesn’t matter as much to you, give in graciously. It will show him or her that their happiness is important to you.
3. Try to express vulnerability and hurt instead of anger
Anger is a secondary emotion that usually stems from some other emotion such as hurt, embarrassment or disappointment. Your spouse is more likely to respond with empathy and understanding when you tell them why you are feeling angry. He or she would much rather try to see your side of things when you are hurt and vulnerable than when you are accusing and yelling.
Often in a fight both partners are so concerned with being right that rather than truly listening, they are simply waiting for the other person to stop talking in order to jump in with their own counterpoint. This leads to frustration on both sides and often results in insults or accusations. Try to stop yourself from responding to your spouse immediately and instead consider what he or she has said. Your spouse may have a very wise solution that you might miss if you are too focused on preparing your next point.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. We often put too much emotional investment into fights that are really very unimportant. The fact that your husband leaves his dirty socks all over the floor or that your wife complains about your mother might indeed be irritating, but it is not worth ruining your marriage. If you can recognize that you are probably reenacting the same fights that couples have been having since time immemorial, you will be more likely to be able to laugh at yourselves and get over it.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.