Would their passion have survived the humdrum of a lifetime of petty disagreements?
We’re celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary this month. My husband’s favorite comment is, “30 of the best years of my life.” And that’s when we’re having a good day. The fact that we can joke about it is a good thing.
When someone asked my parents what the secret to their long marriage was, they always said, “We fight by the rules.” Here’s a sample list of what this kind of fighting looks like:
- Avoid degrading language. Name-calling, insults, put-downs, and swearing are not allowed. Neither is putting your partner down or criticizing his or her character.
- Is it really important to blame someone? Fixing the blame distracts you from solving the problem at hand, causes the other participant to be defensive, and escalates the issue.
- No yelling. If you’re too upset to do anything except yell, leave the room, calm yourself, and return.
- Never use force. Period. No physical threats either.
- Please, don’t manipulate. Threatening to divorce or leave the relationship creates anxiety and undermines your ability to resolve issues. It causes your partner to have questions about your commitment to the relationship, and it’s not easy to restore trust once it is broken this way.
- Define your feelings, not those of your spouse. Both partners should use words to explain how they feel, what they need, and what they want. Telling your spouse you know what he or she is thinking is presumptuous and controlling.
- Stay in the present. “Always” is a no-no word. Leave events from the past and worries for the future out of it.
- Don’t forget to listen. Are you doing all the talking? Take turns, and use your listening time to focus on what the other person is saying, not on how you are going to say next. Don’t interrupt.
- Take a time-out if necessary. Take a short break to cool off. Start with 30 minutes to let your mind and body settle down, but come back before 24 hours is up.
What’s your fighting style?
Do you fight fair or is “below the belt” more your style?
Fighting is inevitable in any marriage. In fact, occasional flare-ups are a sign of healthy interaction between two individuals. However, if one yells and the other just waits it out, if one always storms out without resolution, if one is afraid to speak up, or if altercation is avoided at all costs…it’s only a matter of time that there is so much ammunition build-up that the inevitable explosion will be deadly.
Passion flames fade, but they can flare up again over and over throughout a life-long marriage. If this is the kind of commitment you want to make, if you want to be a couple that grows old together, it’s imperative that you learn how to handle your differences in a fair and respectful manner, even when you’re hurting.
This may not be how family fighting was modeled for you. Perhaps yelling, blaming, name-calling, and finger-pointing were the norm. There’s still hope.
- Commit to long-term relationship practices as if there are no other options.
- Evaluate your style. Are there any of the above rules that you have trouble with?
- If so, take the time to practice alternative fair ways of responding so that when the argument happens, you have already established a “fair-fighting practice pattern” in your brain.
- Don’t be afraid to use a time-out to focus on abiding in the “fair-fighting” mode.