My husband and I have been married for five years. When we used to fight, I at least felt like we were learning something about each other. Lately, I just feel drained and our fights just hurt. How come some couples seem to never fight and others fight all the time and how can we fix this problem?
Dear Worn Down,
All healthy couples fight. Fighting is a way to resolve differences, issues and imbalances of power. It's not the fact that couples fight that predicts their success together, but rather HOW they fight.
A person's fighting style can evolve from past experiences as well as from what you observed in your family of origin. Do you recognize yourself in any of the following fighting styles?
Avoiders: When faced with conflict, avoiders prefer to leave the room, fall asleep or change the subject rather than facing the issue at hand.
Guiltmakers: Instead of taking responsibility for their part of the problem, Guiltmakers try to shift the onus and make their spouse responsible for causing pain and discomfort. For example “SIGH...Don't worry about me...I'll get over this eventually”.
Snipers: Rather than openly expressing their feelings a Sniper will attack with sarcasm. If their partner responds with hurt they may say something like “Oh, don't be so sensitive” or “I was just joking!”. This leaves their spouse unclear on what the problem is and moves the couple further apart.
Blamers: Uncomfortable with taking personal responsibility, blamers are more interested in finding fault that in finding solutions to problems.
Gunnysackers: Instead of responding immediately when angered, Gunnysackers allow resentments, large and small, to build up. When the sack is full it ALL comes out, leaving their spouse overwhelmed by both the issues and the depth of their anger.
Kamikaze Fighters: These fighters are not satisfied until their partner has been devastated and will do whatever it takes to 'win' and 'be right'.
The Therapist: Rather than allowing their spouse to express their honest opinion, the Therapist engages in character analysis explaining what the other person REALLY means or what is wrong with their spouse's personality. In doing so, the Therapist can avoid looking at their own responsibility for the argument and leaves their partner unable to express themselves and feeling misunderstood.
While none of us are at our best when embroiled in an argument, here are a few guidelines for fighting fairly and more productively.
- Stay in the present. Stick to the issue at hand and avoid the impulse to bring other issues into the discussion.
- Use “I feel” statements rather than “You make me feel” statements.
- Avoid the words 'Always' and 'Never'
- Avoid name calling and profanity. This can be considered verbally abusive behaviour.
- Listen without interrupting. Do not assume that you know your spouse's thoughts and feelings.
- Lower your voice if you feel yourself losing control.
- Don't hit below the belt by arguing points that are too sensitive to bring up without causing damage - for example weight, appearance, intelligence, family upbringing, cultural difference.
- Agree to disagree. It is often unnecessary to assign blame or insist that one person is 'right'.
- If it is becoming too heated, agree to revisit the issue at a later time when both people have calmed down.
While some arguments between couples are normal, if your relationship includes verbal threats, physical or sexual violence, or emotional abuse it would be advisable to seek professional help or contact your local women's shelter or distress center. Important emergency numbers can generally be found on the first page of your city's phone book.