Marriage is two individuals doing life as a team. You and your spouse will always have some differing perspectives, needs, priorities, habits, and let’s say – idiosyncrasies – that make you both unique. This means ongoing work on communication skills, learning how to handle disagreements and conflict, and doing the intentional stuff that keeps you connected and your relationship healthy.
Sprinkle in anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness, or maybe uncertainty about the future and tight finances. As a result, marriage can go from difficult to disastrous. Real quick. Heavy emotions or difficult circumstances can take a toll on your marriage. Everything gets magnified and intensified. This can lead to constant fighting.
Tensions, disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting should be expected in marriage, period. But they can be framed in a way that drives you toward each other – not apart.
1. Stop fights before they start.
If the best fight is the one that actually draws you together and strengthens your relationship, then the second-best fight is the one that never happens.
Understand Your Current Situation.
Acknowledge that you or your spouse may be experiencing high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress. This produces what marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to as “Flooding,” which is when the brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for complex problem solving) to function. When you or your spouse are in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mode, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. This isn’t a fault in you or your spouse – this is your body’s nervous system. Hopefully, just knowing this promotes grace, empathy, and patience.
Be at your best when things are going sideways in your marriage. You each still need your space and need to take care of yourselves and find healthy ways to manage and process the stress you are feeling. Stay connected to your friends and the people that encourage you. It’s okay for you to sit in another room and watch television alone. It’s okay for your spouse to go for a walk without you. If you are both working on being the best versions of yourselves, you’ll both be in a better place when you are together.
Set Up Schedules and Routines.
This will make expectations clear, give your day predictability, and give you stability. Are one or both of you working from home? When and where in your house or apartment will work be done? Do you have children? Designate when you will take turns watching them so the other can work or get some alone time. Who is doing what chores around the house? Divide housework equally and play to your strengths.
Choose A Specific Time Each Day To “Check In” With Each Other.
This isn’t fight time. This is when you ask each other how you are feeling physically and emotionally. This is a time to share needs and ask how you can be helping each other. Take turns speaking and listening. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal time, just consistent.
2. Fight nice.
It may sound strange, but when you aren’t fighting, take some time to discuss and establish some “ground rules” for how you will handle tensions, disagreements, and problems. No bringing up the past. No interrupting. And no raising your voices. How will you call a “timeout?” What is the time limit? How will you signal that the “fight” is over? Use this blog to guide you.
Schedule Your “Fights.”
Set a time once or twice a week (max) when each of you gets to air out one (and only one) criticism while the other is only allowed to listen. Avoid words like, “always” or “never” and try to frame it as an “I” statement. “I get frustrated when it feels like you are being distant,” or “I need more help with putting the kids to bed,” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t raise your voice at me.”
Respond, Don’t React.
You are both going to hear some hard things, especially if you can’t stop fighting. It is important not to escalate the conversation with the volume or tone of your voice, your body language, or your words themselves. Don’t react by letting emotions take control. As you actively listen, respond calmly, compassionately, and empathetically.
It’s not all about not fighting. Make sure you are doing things that help you connect, have fun together, deepen intimacy, create some romance, and deepen your relationship.
Plan Some Fun!
Be intentional and schedule some fun things you can do together. Have a formal, in-home date night. Dress up and make a special dinner. Do something fun and silly like build a blanket fort and watch a movie. Go for a walk together. Have a game night. Don’t try to do any heavy relationship work during this time, just enjoy each other’s company. Generally, men bond shoulder to shoulder by doing things together, and women bond face to face, through conversation. So, make sure you are doing a little of both. Don’t forget why you married your spouse in the first place.
Figure Out What Says “I Love You” To Your Spouse.
Not everyone communicates “I love you” the same way and not everyone hears “I love you” the same way. Some people need quality time together. Some people need words that affirm them. Dr. Gary Chapman dives into this in The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts. You can also go to his website, take a free quiz, and find resources that will help you communicate love more effectively to each other.
What About Sex?
What about it?! Sex is one of the most powerful ways to stay connected! Understand the dynamics of sex – generally, women need to feel connected to have sex and men need to have sex to feel connected. Not a problem! This is the perfect example of how two people have to work to make the marriage work.
Mindset is everything.
When you’re fighting all the time, it’s easy to begin seeing your spouse as an adversary, and then your relationship becomes a contest of winning and losing. Ultimately, you need to remember that your spouse isn’t the enemy; the problem is the enemy. Then you can fight for your spouse and for your marriage.
Don’t be afraid to call in the pros.
Sometimes the problems run deep. One or both of you could have blind spots. You’re too close to the situation and might need a third party who can be objective and see what you’re missing. Get the help you need!
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
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