Stop arguing! How do I bring up a concern to my spouse without causing a fight?

No two people always think alike. Here are tips for handling disagreements with your spouse with love and maturity.

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  • Every couple has been there — what starts out as a little concern turns into a major blow-up. Neither spouse should feel they need to ignore their concerns in order to avoid a fight. Keeping the following three things in mind will help you address issues in marriage without an epic battle.

    1. Before addressing any issue or concern in your marriage, choose a peaceful time to establish these four building blocks of healthy discussion in marriage.
  • When both spouses have acknowledged these basic premises in advance, disagreements can be handled with more love and maturity. It's a good idea to post a copy of these reminders in your home, where both spouses can glance at them in happy times.

    • We love each other.

    • We want to be with each other.

    • We are not in competition with each other.

    • In all that we do our objective is to build our marriage.

  • With these building blocks in mind, you'll have a greater probability of building peaceful marriage.

    1. When you want to present a touchy issue to your spouse, commit to these two principles.
  • I will:

    • Own my own stuff
  • and

    • Stay on task — in the "here and now."
  • Talking from an “I” position is very important. Staying on task is often difficult because you want to prove your point. Therefore, the tendency is to go back in history and bring up everything you can to sell your point, or to use history to beat the other person down into submission. To be more effective stay in the “here and now.”

    1. Use an approach like this to present the problem:
  • I feel

  • About

  • I need

  • The statement, “I feel,” needs to identify an emotion, not a thought. For instance, the four basic emotions are mad, glad, sad and afraid. There are other words that describe emotions. However, if you start with one of these four it gives a beginning point. Therefore, the statement could be, “I feel sad.”

  • Present the problem as an event rather than a finger-pointing personal attack. So the “about” is a description of the event that took place. For instance, if at dinner one of the children spilled her milk and your mate did nothing to help with the clean-up, the statement might be: “I’m sad that tonight at dinner when Jill spilled her milk I didn’t have any help in cleaning up the mess.”

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  • The last of the three steps is generally left out, leaving the listener with the responsibility of trying to figure out what you need. Make sure that you state what your need is so there is no assuming or guessing as to what is needed. Sometimes needs are not apparent or the other person is deep in thought, not really observing what’s going on. So the complete statement may be, “I am sad that tonight at dinner when Jill spilled her milk I didn’t have any help in cleaning up the mess. When these things happen I need your help.”

  • During therapy when this process is clearly explained the mate often says, “I didn’t know you needed that. Thank you for telling me.” Remember, unless you express your need it may not get met.

  • The process of having a meaningful discussion becomes possible when you remember to own your own stuff, stay on task and remember the three points of presenting your problem: express what you’re feeling, what the discussion is about (the event), and what you need. You will be pleasantly surprised at how peaceful and helpful your discussions can be when this procedure is followed.

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Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships.

Website: http://garyjoylundberg.com

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