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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. 

  1. 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! 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.***

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

Why are you fighting?” That’s the question one little girl posed to her parents at the dinner table as they were in the midst of a heated discussion about what needed to happen after dinner. How do you talk with your children about why parents fight? 

It’s pretty much a given that parents will get sideways with each other in front of the kids. Sometimes it’s about something ridiculous and other times it’s something of a more adult nature. Here’s the thing: whether it is something small or something that really matters, how you fight impacts your children. Children do not like conflict. 

Witnessing your parents have an argument can be very scary and unsettling for children of any age. Here are some tips for talking with your children about why parents fight.

  • Check your own emotional temperature. It’s very important to be emotionally-aware for yourself and for your child. Before you talk with your child about the reasons parents might fight, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re emotionally ready for it. For instance, right after a fight might not be the best time to have the discussion. When you take the time to cool down before approaching your child, you are practicing emotional regulation, which is a very important skill for both you and your child. When you talk with your child, be specific about the emotions they might be feeling right now. They could be experiencing fear, sadness or worry, among other things. Helping them to put names to what they are feeling will help build their emotional intelligence. It also helps them learn how to process through an experience.  
  • Keep it age appropriate. Everyone experiences conflict from time to time. Remind them about the time they didn’t want to share their toy with their sibling or when they were angry with one of you for not letting them do something. That’s a disagreement, too. Sometimes parents fight when they have different opinions about things, they are upset about something from work or they are tired, have a lot going on, or aren’t feeling well. Help them see that healthy disagreements are normal in families.
  • Discuss feelings and tone of voice. There are times when parents argue that their tone of voice sounds mean, angry and loud. These moments can be very stressful for children. Literally, researchers have measured cortisol (the stress hormone) in children’s bodies and have found that even infants respond to their parents’ fighting. This could be a time when you apologize for the way you expressed your emotions and use it as a teachable moment to talk about how what we say and do when we are angry or upset with each other impacts everyone in the family. We all make mistakes. The goal is to learn how to do things differently the next time you have a disagreement.
  • Reassure your child that you love them and that your desire is to work things out. If possible, let them see you resolve the issue together. If you are fighting about an ongoing issue that is creating significant angst in your marriage, be careful what you share with your children as you do not want to say things that are untrue or will paint your spouse in a bad light. You might tell them that you are asking for help to solve your problem if you cannot resolve it on your own.

Fighting scares children. As a parent, helping them to see that disagreements are part of being in a relationship and letting them know that just because parents are fighting, it doesn’t mean they are going to get divorced can help settle their anxiety. Teaching and modeling what healthy conflict looks like decreases drama in your home. It also prepares children for healthy relationships in the future.

***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.***

It started with a simple question from my son at the dinner table. “Can I invite a few friends to go to Six Flags Amusement Park with me for my birthday?” Would it end up as a fight in front of the kids?

Mom: That should be fun. How many friends are you thinking about?

Son: Two.

Mom: Sounds like a good idea.

Dad (Me): Hmmm. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea right now.

Mom: Really. Why not?

Dad: Have you looked at the cost for one person to go to Six Flags? Let alone 3 or 4. Have you looked at our bank account lately?

Mom: How many times does our son turn 10 years old?

At this point, we had a decision to make… 

  1. Do we continue this disagreement that was morphing into an argument in front of our kids? 
  2. Should we squash the conversation until we could get behind closed doors? 

We both were starting to recognize that we felt strongly about our opinions. Internally, we were questioning the next step of the discussion and asking,”Should we have this fight in front of the kids?”

I’m going to jump in with how we fight, or put another way, resolve disagreements and conflict in front of our children, if that’s where you find yourself. It is inevitable that you and your spouse will have a disagreement in front of your kids. How you handle these disagreements can have a great impact on them. 

If you choose to work through conflict with your spouse in front of your kids, here are a few tips:

1. Respect, Respect, Respect

  1. There is never a time when it’s okay to disrespect one another’s thoughts, feelings or desires regardless of how emotional you get or how strongly you feel about a particular issue. 
  2. It’s even worse to disrespect one another in front of your children. 
  3. We disrespect when we belittle one another’s thoughts, are dismissive of each other’s emotions and devalue each other’s desires. 
  4. Respecting one another is more important than coming to the “right” solution. 
  5. Dr. Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School and New York Times best-selling author states that, “When parents disagree thoughtfully and respectfully, that sets a standard for kids to learn to do the same thing.” 
  6. Your children are learning how to treat other people they disagree with based on what you show them.

If you realize you have disrespected your spouse, it’s important that you not only apologize to your spouse, but that you also talk with your children about it. They must understand that disrespect is not acceptable.

2. “I,” not “You.”

I could’ve said to my wife, “You don’t know how much money is in the bank.” But I could have also said, “You care more about him having fun than about us being responsible.” In that instance, I’ve attacked her and assumed what she knows or cares about. Dr. John Gottman, marriage therapist and researcher says, “When you start sentences with ‘I’ you are less likely to seem (or be!) critical, immediately putting your partner into a defensive position.” Instead of starting with “You,” I can say, “I’m concerned that paying for this trip may not leave us enough money for other necessary and important things.” 

☆ Focusing on what you know, think, feel, and want as opposed to making statements about what you believe your spouse knows, thinks, feels, and wants leads to better communication and understanding during conflict.

3. Avoid statements like, “You always,” or, “You never.

Statements like this make generalizations about a person’s character, placing the focus on them and putting them on the defensive while taking the focus away from the issue. 

4. Tone of Voice and Body Language Matter… a lot.

I encourage you to stop and watch kids talk and interact sometime. Many talk with their hands, give colorful facial expressions, their tone gets high when they’re excited and loud when they’re upset. This is the lens through which your child sees your body language and hears your tone of voice. Not to mention that research says 93% of communication is made with body language and tone of voice and only 7% are the actual spoken words. Avoid eye-rolling, sighing heavily like you’re disgusted, slumping your posture like you don’t care or rolling your neck like you have a bad attitude. Your children are reading each of the cues you’re sending.

5. Be clear to your children when it’s resolved.

Your child is processing what they see and hear. If they hear the conflict and are never privy to the solution, then you’ve left their imagination to wonder. Research by Dr. Rebecca Brock, assistant professor at University of Nebraska, indicates that unresolved marital tension can lead to children experiencing anxiety, depression, and distress

This may cause children to feel extremely insecure. 

If your child sees the two of you arguing, be sure they know and see that you’ve resolved the issue. Even if it’s just to say, “I know you heard us arguing earlier. I just want you to know that we figured it out and everything is good now.” The details of the solution may not be necessary to share. But the acknowledgment that the argument is not going to tear you apart helps bring closure for the child.

How Not To Fight

  • Never attack one another physically or emotionally. That’s domestic violence
  • Don’t manipulate, intimidate, or threaten your spouse. Threatening to walk out, leave the marriage, or do something that is hurtful or permanent can leave scars that wound for years.
  • Never put the kids in the middle of your argument. They should not be choosing sides or used as a pawn to help you win your argument.

What Not To Fight About In Front Of The Kids

There are some things that are simply a bad idea to argue about in front of the kids.

  • Sex
  • In-laws
  • Discipline

If you’re going to fight in front of the kids, then you should definitely make up in front of the kids. (No, not that kind of “make up.” Shame on you! 😳 ) A hug and a kiss in front of the kids is plenty. Verbally affirming your love, respect, and commitment for one another also sends the message that your commitment to one another is bigger than the disagreement. Arguing in front of your children can be damaging to them, especially when it’s not done in a healthy and productive manner. 

Model Healthy Conflict Resolution.

Studies show that your children can learn healthy conflict resolution skills when you model it for them. How you treat one another, including when you disagree, provides an example for how a couple communicates respect and acceptance. You’re also modeling how to effectively deal with your emotions and appreciate others emotions. These are all skills that will definitely be useful as your child engages in relationships throughout their life.

My son did get to go to Six Flags. After listening to me and his mother talk about our thoughts and feelings regarding the gift and adding up the cost, he had a greater appreciation for his gift. Did he know that I was not the one in support of the trip? Maybe, but I don’t think it bothered him as he, I, and his other friend rode the roller coasters. He also learned that his parents can disagree, both have strong opinions, and still love, respect, and remain committed to one another

★ What do you want your kids to learn when they see you fight?

***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.***

Fighting with your fiancé all the time, aka, the person you are planning on spending forever with, can feel just exhausting. The uncertainty from COVID-19, the potential for rescheduling your wedding, fear of job loss, or navigating unemployment while trying to secure a future together, spending what may feel like too much time together, and so many unknowns right now can definitely stir the dust in the air. Just when you think the dust is going to settle, one of you kicks it back up again! 

I have seen far too many people fall into the trap of marrying a person thinking that they knew them, but in reality, they only knew about them,” says Dr. John Van Epp, relationship expert, and author. 

So, for starters, if you find yourself in constant conflict with your fiancé, what exactly are you fighting about?  

  • Finances around the wedding?
  • When you will actually get married?  
  • What the celebration will look like in the midst of “RONA?”
  • One of you is messy and the other is a neat freak?
  • Your mother?
  • Quarantining during the Pandemic?
  • The dishes in the sink overnight?
  • Money in general?

Fighting about things that matter is one thing, but if you find yourself fighting with your fiancé about Every. Little. Thing, that’s a whole new ballgame. It might be a good time to take inventory of your relationship and see if it’s unhealthy. 

An important thing to consider—if you are fighting about everyday things that you will for sure continue to encounter, and you are thinking that once you marry things will simmer down and those issues won’t be such a big deal or you will be able to “work on your spouse” to get them to change… Do not be fooled. If you see things that you need to work on individually or as a couple, the chances of change happening before the wedding are far greater than after the ring is on your finger

The hopeful news is that conflict is inescapable for any relationship, AND some of the best news is that conflict handled well actually brings you closer instead of pulling you apart. 

You for sure are not alone in this. Psychologist Dan Wile says it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” It’s true.  Every couple has around 10 things they will not necessarily agree on for the duration of their marriage. Despite this, relationship expert Dr. Gottman, who has studied couples for the last 40 years, has found that about ⅓ of conflicts can be resolved with the right approach. Even for those things that you might disagree on for forever, Gottman found that how you approach each other is the key.

Dr. Gottman’s Approach:

  • Step 1: Soften Your Start-Up. Are you beginning the conversation where you left off in your head? When your fiancé gets to your apartment you say, “Why should I ever be ready on time? You’re always late.” They respond with, “I got stuck behind an accident. I’m working on my timing.” Then maybe you go on to say, “It’ll be something else next time.” Soft Start-Ups don’t include the Four Horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling). Instead, you and your partner start the conversation gently and with intentions of understanding each other and coming to a resolution.
  • Step 2: Learn to Send and Receive Repair Attempts. Think of a repair attempt as slamming on the brakes when you see a red light. You do this to avoid a collision that could harm your marriage,” says Kyle Benson from the Gottman Institute. In the example above, acknowledging that your fiancé is working on their time management could have de-escalated the situation. Practicing sending and receiving repair attempts can help improve the quality of your relationship.
  • Step 3: Soothe Yourself and Each Other. If you know you’re too upset to have a conversation at the moment, take a 20-30 minute break and try and “focus on the positives of your relationship by yourself.” When you’re “Flooded, ” as Dr. John Gottman refers to it, your brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for complex problem-solving, to function. As a result, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. Acknowledge what makes you feel flooded, talk about the best way and time to bring up issues to each other, how your partner can soothe you and what signals you can give each other to clue the other into how you’re feeling.
  • Step 4: Compromise. When you negotiate, you accept each other’s imperfections while recognizing your relationship is more important than the argument and being right.
  • Step 5: Address Emotional Injuries. Sometimes how you fight is what hurts more than what you were fighting about. Be open to talking it out and processing what you two went through. Accept responsibility and learn from your fights.

Fighting with your fiancé doesn’t have to be all bad—it can be an area for growth and an opportunity to understand each other’s differences better. A great way to fight for your relationship is by preparing for marriage. Consider premarital education or counseling to set yourselves up with the tools you need to thrive in your relationship.

Some other blogs you might find helpful!

10 RULES TO “FIGHT NICE” WITH YOUR SPOUSE

TOP 10 POTENTIAL MARRIAGE PITFALLS

10 GREAT DATES BEFORE YOU SAY “I DO”

10 RED FLAGS IN A DATING RELATIONSHIP

***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 that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from AdobeStock.com

Is anyone else having issues with their kids and getting them on schedule or getting them to do the things around the house the first time you ask? I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would change our lives for a few weeks, but  I never considered that it would stretch into the summer. As a result of the “new normal,” I have noticed changes in the behavior of my children as well. Some of those changes include:

Backtalk From My Kids

Arguments About Bedtimes, Chores, Hygiene 

Too Much Screen Time (Games, Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

What is really going on? How am I contributing via my stress, anxiety, or mood? In essence, how do I stop fighting with my kids? What are the things that I can do?

1. Remember That You Are The Parent

I recognize that my responsibility to my children is to be their parent. Even though I want to develop a close relationship with my child, being the parent means that I will have to do things that are not popular. In fact, because I love my child and want a close relationship with them, as a parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. The first time that my youngest son said to me, “Mommy, you are not my friend,” I took a deep breath and replied, “You are right. I am not your friend, I AM your MOM.” I want my kids to know that they are loved, accepted, and can always come to me, but I can’t always be their “buddy.” I can’t make decisions based on a popularity contest—I have to do what’s best for them knowing that they won’t always understand that this is real love.

In that particular situation, I chose to respond versus react. Reactions are automatic, without thought and usually driven by emotions. When I respond, according to the author and licensed marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, “I take a pause before I do something.” In other words, I think, control my emotions, and move forward as the parent.

2. Become A Student Of Your Child

Learn what your child likes and what interests them. Talk with and listen to them, find out what shows they watch, what music they like, what are they feeling (e.g., fear, concern, anger, sadness). Creating a healthy relationship with them gives you insight into their world. Remember that the pandemic and all that is going on has had an impact on your child as well. Take your child’s emotional temperature by asking questions to find out how are they are feeling and what is on their minds. They may be acting out because they feel insecure, afraid, or anxious. They may be trying to get your attention

3. Create Structure And Boundaries And Consistently Enforce Them

It is important that our children feel a sense of routine, structure, and boundaries in the midst of all the chaos and confusion going on in the world. Structure and boundaries provide safety for children. They see and hear news about COVID-19 and racial unrest. They may feel afraid and concerned as a result. You can create structure and boundaries by: Making one-on-one time with each child to talk, Having dinner together as a family, or Family Game Night. These family interactions can develop connectedness between the members which hopefully can decrease the argumentative interactions.

Your children should have routines in the morning and evening and bedtime that place structure around their day. Give them a daily to-do list like: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Read For 20 Minutes, Exercise/Play For 1 Hour, Eat Dinner, Screen Time (as prescribed by parents), Bedtime Routine, Lights Out. Put the schedule somewhere at their eye-level. Even kids that can’t read yet can follow a list using pictures to know how to get ready for bed. These routines provide expectations for what the day will look like and there will be less to fight with your kids about.

Power struggles and arguments seem like they will always be a normal part of parenting. However, you don’t have to normalize fighting with your kids. When you recognize your role and responsibilities as a parent, it gives you a focus point. Creating a healthy parent-child relationship helps your children learn and respect boundaries. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be your best self and respond, not react. One of the best lessons that I have learned on my parenting journey is, “Rules (structure) without relationship leads to rebellion.

Image from Pexels.com

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?”

Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting.

Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

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Marriage can be difficult under the best circumstances. Two people doing life together will always have some differing perspectives, needs, priorities, habits, and let’s say—idiosyncrasies—that make them unique. This means continual, 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. Then you throw in a Global Pandemic and being in quarantine with your partner 24/7, and marriage gets really interesting. Sprinkle in anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness, along with uncertainty about the future and finances. As a result, marriage can go from difficult to disastrous. Real quick. Everything gets magnified and intensified. This is a hard time, especially if you can’t stop fighting.

Many people are looking across the living room at their spouse and saying, “Who is this person?

Under normal conditions, when my wife gets on my nerves, (totally a rare occurrence, right?) I’m in the habit of asking myself, “Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved?” Then I try to proceed accordingly. Being in quarantine for about a month has definitely moved some things from the “Tension” category over to the “Problem To Be Solved” category. So now we have more (and some new) problems to be solved and neither of us is really the best version of ourselves at the moment. You know the deal.

Tensions, disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting should be expected under these circumstances. They should be expected in marriage, period, but they can be framed in a way that drives you toward each other—not apart. 

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.

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 our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains 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.

Practice Self-Care.

Just because you are quarantined with each other doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time together. 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 and 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?

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.

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 “time-out?” 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.

Kiss and Make Up

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, in quarantine date night. Dress up and make a special dinner. 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, 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 his book titled, The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts, but you can also go to his website and take a free quiz and find resources that will help you communicate love more effectively to each other. 

What About Sex?

What about it?! You are quarantined together, and this 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.

When you are fighting all the time, it is easy to begin to see your spouse as an adversary and your relationship becomes a contest of winning and losing. Ultimately, we need to remember that our spouse isn’t the enemy, the problem or the disagreement is. Then we can fight for our spouse and for our marriage.

***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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One-bedroom apartment.

Two newlyweds working from home now.

Multiple video conference calls (sometimes simultaneously).

Only two options for “getting space”: Bathroom or the balcony.

Lots of uncertainty and anxiety in the air amidst a pandemic.

Time to work on those healthy communication skills.

I’m sitting on the couch with my husband when the phone rings. We pause our movie, he answers and all I hear is “Mhmm, yeah…okay, yeah.”

His family friend has a nice car and is offering it to us before anyone else and for a good price. Hmm…

Mind you, we have been saving for about 10 months now to replace my husband’s car. It’s been on our to-do list before all of these COVID-19 precautions. We both were antsy to check it off.

Now normally, I love a good deal, but I had to ask myself (and him), “Is this good timing?”

To be honest, a lot feels unknown. We don’t know the ramifications COVID-19 will have on the economy and making a big purchase scares me a little bit…a detour from our original plan feels necessary. To him, we’ve had a goal in mind, we’ve worked hard and this is a great opportunity. 

This could be a difficult conversation.

During this pandemic, I’m sure you can relate to having your fair share of challenging conversations, too. There are lots of new, important things to talk about. Money is a touchy subject as it is, and during a time when no one wants to handle money and is quarantined, the irony felt all too coincidental. For us, this was a potential relationship landmine. 

The last thing we need to take up space in our little apartment is tension. There’s not enough room for the distance created by the lack of good communication.

If you create distance because one of you or both of you are pushing away your feelings, rather than pushing through them, then you create an opportunity to have that gap filled by things that only make matters worse. Disappointment, resentment or misunderstandings start filling the gap and then you two have enough tension to fill a guest room that you don’t have. 

You can’t fix a problem you don’t know is there and neither can your spouse. Neither of you is a mind reader. Conflict isn’t comfortable—I won’t sell it to you like it is. But I will be honest—it’s often a chance for growth and a better understanding of each other.

You aren’t doing life on your own anymore. Important decisions are made together. I mean, as the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” 

And we had to put our heads together on whether this is a good time to buy a car or not. Who knows how this conversation will go? We often have to work to not get defensive of our own opinions. We agreed that at the end of this difficult conversation, both of us need to feel heard and cared for.

Before we tried to come to a conclusion, we set ourselves up for success.

We made each other feel safe to share opposing opinions and we listened with the intention to hear each other and respond—not just make a rebuttal (as tempting as that can be.)

  1. We made sure we had time to start and hopefully, finish the conversation. 
  2. Both us of put our phones aside, made sure our schedules were clear and we made resolving our conflict a priority.
  3. We chose a spot where we felt comfortable talking. 
  4. We reminded each other before we started making our points that this is our decision to make, no one else’s, and that we are on the same team. Win together and lose together. We replaced the “me” in mentality with “we.” What is best for us?
  5. We actively listened. (Meaning, we “listened” between the lines of each other’s answers and made sure to ask each other clarifying questions. Call us compassionate detectives.) “Are you scared of spending the money we saved for the car because of what’s unknown in the economy or are you really worried about your job?” “Are you not worried about using our savings just because we’ve been saying we would get a car, or because you feel secure in the foundation we laid for ourselves?
  6. We found a solution and made a plan where we both compromised a little while still reaching our goal. We are going to try and sell Tyler’s car before we make the purchase of the new-to-us car. That way we won’t drain our savings during an uncertain time and we are still marking off something we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making happen.

Maybe it’s been a stressful, exhausting week already and you don’t want to add to it. It’s possible you fear what the other person may say or worry they won’t see your point of view.  Maybe it’s as simple as you don’t know where to start.

Make good communication a priority, now more than ever.

Remind yourself to push through and have those difficult conversations rather than push away the emotions. Remember that good communication will help both of you grow and find better ways to love each other.

In marriage, you should be able to rest confidently in the fact that your partner chose you, chooses you and will continue to as you do all the same things for them. If you both put the effort into making your marriage a safe place where you two can fully express and be yourselves, then the rest, even a difficult conversation, becomes easier.

***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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Why do couples fight? And what do they usually fight about?

Most people say they fight about money, sex, kids, and in-laws straight out of the gates.

In romantic relationships, all kinds of major and minor disagreements can impact the quality of a couple’s relationship. If you’re wondering what couples are most likely to fight about, check out this 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss, and Mohaned Abed.

They conducted the study in three stages with newly-married heterosexual couples. They looked at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas which they placed into six component groups.

Component Groups:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection. This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated, and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity. This was affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships, and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected, and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex. One may want sex and the other doesn’t. Frequency of sex, sexual acts, and telling private information about the relationship to others—the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance. This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and Money. Things like goals for the future, children, and the ability to invest in the relationship fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time, although the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance. As women grew older, there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities.
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether considering marriage, engaged, or already married, this info can provide a great foundation for a conversation about potential disagreements. There’s some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues. However, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love doesn’t see things the same way you do. It’s pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.

Either way, knowing you have these differences or areas of conflict can help you talk about how you’ll navigate them so your relationship can thrive in the process.

How Do You Talk About It?

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, always seek information and to remain curious. Don’t include any rules about the conversation ending when the timer goes off! This also isn’t the time to try and convince your partner they’re wrong and should for sure see things your way.

Couples often find that seeking to understand their partner helps them make sense of why they think the way they do. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on some things and have a healthy marriage, but it’ll require some effort on each person’s part. If you’re dating or engaged, your differences may be significant enough for you to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what’s in your relationship’s best interest.

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

***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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