1. Try to Figure Out Who’s Right
Many people tell me about a marriage problem and then they ask, “Do you think I’m right?” I often answer, “It doesn’t matter.”
That’s because, for the vast majority of marital arguments, you’re both right. You have legitimate wants and needs – wants and needs that conflict with your partner’s wants and needs and vice versa. Let’s say, for instance, that one of you wants to ride his bike while the other wants to take a nap. Yet you have a kid who needs a parent. That means one of you isn’t going to get to do what you want to do. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong. Compromise and walking a mile in each other’s shoes is what’s in order.
2. Pretend You Don’t Have a Problem
This might work if you are arguing because you are both tired and grumpy. In that case, a good night’s sleep just might solve your problem. In all other cases, however, the problem will just grow over time. Talk about what’s wrong. Then hash out possible solutions until you find one you are both willing to try.
3. Blame the Problem on Your Spouse
The longer you blame, the longer your spouse will dig in and stand his or her ground. Think about how you feel when someone blames you for a problem. Do you back down? Probably not. You become indignant, right? That’s exactly how your spouse will react. It doesn’t matter if it’s really your spouse’s fault. See if you can find a way to talk about the problem without pointing fingers. For instance, just today, my husband came home at 12:45 and said, “Hey are we having sex?” We usually do pull off a nooner on Wednesdays, but he’d left this morning without telling me his schedule. I didn’t know if he was coming home or not, so I hadn’t bothered to get ready. At 12:45 I had not yet showered or even eaten lunch, and I wasn’t exactly emotionally up for it, either. My mind was completely focused on my work. He needed to leave by 1:30 pm to pick up our daughter. Just the idea of only having 45 minutes to pull it all off stressed me out.
So I said, “I’m sorry, this is too rushed and stressful for me. I didn’t realize you would be coming home. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I’m not ready and I don’t think I can get ready by the time you have to leave. Maybe next time you can tell me your schedule before you leave in the morning. That way I’ll know what to expect.” And then I made a joke about communication. In that way, I stated the problem without blaming him for it. After all, in many ways, we were both to blame. He hadn’t communicated and I wasn’t able to drop everything when asked.
4. Fixate on your Feelings
Yes, it’s important to talk about your feelings, especially if you are hurt. But the longer you go on about how hurt, disappointed or angry you feel, the longer you delay solving the problem. A good rule of thumb: Voice your feelings in just one or two sentences. Check to see if your spouse acknowledges them. If your spouse does, then move on to finding a solution. If not ask, “What don’t you understand about me feeling angry?”
5. Refuse to Own Your Anger
While your spouse might do or say something that triggers your anger, only you can manage it. Comments like, “Look how angry you made me,” don’t get you closer to a solution. Try to separate the facts of the problem from the emotions that surround it. You solve anger, for instance, by relaxing, meditating, exercising, or something else. You can do all of those activities without your spouse. You solve your marital problem, on the other hand, together, after you’ve done what you needed to do to calm yourself down.