Here’s the thing, whether you’ve been married for five years or 50, you are still two unique people from different backgrounds with varied life experiences. Each of you has different ingrained likes and dislikes, unique communication styles and approaches to conflict, mismatched habits, and even tiny little quirks and idiosyncrasies. You’re two “I’s.”
You are gonna disagree, argue, and, yes, even fight sometimes.
That might sound like a strange thing to say, but if you are invested in your marriage and you want it to grow, you know there will be some growing pains that have to be worked through. The enemy of a good marriage is a ho-hum marriage where people go through the motions on a daily basis with no real emotion and motivation to do anything any different.
3 Benefits Of Fighting in Your Marriage.
- You Build Trust. When you realize that your spouse will listen to your needs respectfully and make good-faith efforts to meet them, trust goes through the roof!
- You Move Forward When You Don’t Hold Back. When both of you understand that you can be real, genuine, open, and transparent with each other and it is totally safe, your relationship will grow by leaps and bounds. You will reach new levels of intimacy.
- You Know Where You Stand With Each Other. So many couples attribute thoughts, motives, and feelings to each other and end up reacting to non-existent phantoms instead of their spouse. When you fight well with each other, it’s all on the table. And that’s a good thing!
Some people are intimidated by change (and their spouse) and they are fine to go along to get along. Some spouses are comfortable making all the decisions. But when it comes to finances, parenting, sex, and other topics, the marriage is at its best when BOTH spouses are bold and honest, and bring their differences to the table and work through them. This is what it means to be a TEAM.
The intimidated, conflict-avoidant spouse may have to learn to speak up. The intimidating, conflict-dominant spouse may need to sharpen those listening skills quietly.
There is no medal for the most passive spouse. You may be bottling-up tensions, disagreements, hurt feelings, unmet needs, and unfulfilled expectations, and all the “little things” that accrue during years of marriage which are far more dangerous for your health and the health of your marriage. Stuffing it all down, ignoring it, or pretending everything is okay eventually leads to acidic bitterness, corrosive resentment, and a sense of entitlement to go outside your marital boundaries and do things that will devastate your marriage. Bring that stuff to the surface in a healthy, productive way.
Dr. John Gottman, researcher, writer, lecturer, and all-around couples guru said this: “Our research has shown that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them—these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either fundamental differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict or fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs.”
Or, as I put it to my oldest son who is inching toward the altar, “Marriage is picking the set of problems you will have the rest of your life.” Doesn’t that sound romantic? He didn’t think so either. But it is so reassuring in marriage to know we are both different and it is totally okay. We might have some iron sharpening iron moments, but it’s safe and ultimately our differences can complement instead of compete.
There was a school of thought that happy couples don’t fight. The reality is that happy couples fight right. Gottman elaborates by saying that even how often a couple fights is not what determines the success of a marriage, but rather, it is how a couple fights. Respect is the name of the game. As long as couples respect each other, fighting in and of itself is not a threat to the marriage relationship.
How Can You, As A Couple, Fight Respectfully?
- Make sure BOTH of you have space to express yourself and be heard.
- Keep it about the problem or the behavior—not the person.
- Avoid words like “never” or “always.” It’s never always true.
- Don’t bring up past, settled issues or re-open healed wounds.
- Winning the argument isn’t worth losing your spouse.
- Compromise. You both should feel like you gave a little and got a little.
- Apologize and forgive. (Maybe some of the fighting wasn’t so nice.)
- End by reaffirming your love for each other. When the fight is done, it’s done.
- DON’T intimidate, manipulate, or threaten your spouse. That’s psychological and verbal abuse.
- It should NEVER get physical. That’s domestic violence.
Plan Your Fights.
The “Speaker-Listener Method,” created by The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, empower couples to truly communicate. Couples set aside a half-hour each week and take turns with one person as the speaker and one person as the listener. The speaker respectfully says whatever they want; the listener just listens. They then move toward a healthy, productive dialogue about the issue, hoping to get to the root cause and take the time to brainstorm solutions.
One of the benefits of this method is that it provides room for a quiet spouse to have the floor and speak up while perhaps putting the talkative spouse in a position to truly actively listen. Another benefit of this method is that often couples realize that they have been having the wrong fight all along. (It’s not enough to “fight.” You want to get to the right fight—the one that makes the biggest difference in your relationship and your marriage. Maybe the fight isn’t really about finances, it’s about one spouse feeling like they have no voice in financial decisions.)
We’ve all kind of been trained to think that all conflict is bad and all peace is good. But in marriage, honest conflict surpasses a dishonest peace. Growth in trust and intimacy occurs where there is honest (sometimes hard) communication. You want to keep your marriage on the grow! You’ve got this!
***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.***