Marriage Advice: Stop Having the Same Fight
If you two keep having the same fight, break the habit and have a much happier marriage.
Step 1: Take a Seat continued...
When Margot was learning the three-step mediation strategy, she said, "The
first step — sitting down and collecting my thoughts — was the hardest because
when I feel angry, I just start mouthing off. I've told him many, many
times how much his procrastination with the mail bothers me, and yet he does it
anyway. And that, in turn, makes me feel totally ignored and unimportant, so it
seemed like lashing out at him was my only option."
Margot moved past these blowups by recognizing that her husband's behavior
was simply an annoying habit, and as such, it could be changed. "My husband is
a good person. He's not the problem; it's his mail-handling habit that's
the problem, and habits can be broken. By taking the time to sit down and catch
my breath, I was able to convince myself of that fact, stay calm, and work at
solving the problem."
Step 2: Uncover the Subtext
Once you're sitting down, no matter what the conflict is, fight that impulse
to blame your husband and spell out in excruciating detail where he has gone
wrong. While you're at it, don't indulge that desire to say, "How many times do
I have to tell you this?" either. Instead, act like a detective. Your goal is
to figure out what your partner was thinking. You may think you know, and you
may be right — or you could be completely wrong. By not making assumptions, you
leave room for uncovering his actual thoughts and feelings. Ask neutral
questions like, "What happened?" "Why do you do that?" and "Is there a reason
why you weren't able to take care of it today?"
Speak with a calm, inquisitive tone, as if you have no idea what the answer
is. Work hard (and it is hard) to keep the anger, frustration, and
impatience out of your voice. In most sparring situations, each partner can
speak very convincingly about his or her motives, and the "What on earth was he
thinking?!" question winds up going away.
Put the plan into action: Rosie Behr, 53, of Baltimore, used this
technique to tackle her ongoing argument with her husband about how he gives
her directions when she's driving. "We have a simple division of labor: When
I'm at the wheel, he navigates," Rosie explains, "and I want to know what the
next direction is in advance. That way, I have plenty of time to switch lanes
before making a turn. I also want him to give me just one direction at a time,
or my brain gets overloaded. So I'll ask my husband to tell me the next turn,
and he'll say, 'I'll tell you when we're closer.' To which I say, 'But I need
to know now!' It seems like a simple enough request, but then he'll respond,
'Why don't you just trust me?' and I'll yell, 'Why don't you just tell me?'
This argument drives me crazy."