Arguments can feel like a chess match. You both strategically state your case like seasoned lawyers, presenting key evidence to prove you are right. Other times it’s more like a boxing match, verbally duking it out, and sometimes coming away emotionally cut and bruised.
Disagreements happen in marriage. It’s normal. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about an argument. Both chess and boxing matches have rules that guide the fairest, safest way to determine the outcome. No eye pokes. Don’t throw your chess pieces or give your opponent a wedgie.
Marital disagreements are the same way. Ground rules are essential to be sure your disagreements lead to a positive outcome.
Here are eight things you should never do during an argument with your spouse.
1. Never take your focus off the problem at hand.
Arguments are about issues to be solved, but they often become attacks on each other’s character. Don’t let it get there. Focus on finding a solution, not fixing your spouse.
2. Never listen to argue your point.
Instead, listen to understand where your spouse is coming from. Put yourself in their shoes. When you both invest in each other’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas, you can create solutions for the disagreement together. And you can’t do that without listening to your spouse for better understanding.
3. Never say words like “never” or “always.”
You never do such-and-such… You always say or do this… These are exaggerated and accusatory statements. And they imply that a person needs fixing but will never be able to change their behavior. Instead, use “I” statements and say what you observe. For example, I sometimes see you doing this, and it makes me feel this way…
4. Never bring up old stuff.
Churning up what your spouse said at that party five years ago or the dumb thing they did back when you were dating doesn’t work toward a solution for the problem right now. You want to attack the problem, not your spouse. Keeping score attacks the person instead of the problem. And that’s counterproductive.
5. Never call names.
It doesn’t resolve anything, and it’s just plain mean. Name-calling only separates you and your spouse even more. If calling names is a habit, throw it out the window.
6. Never throw around the word “divorce,” also known as the “D” word.
It’s manipulative, and it doesn’t help you find any kind of solution. Maybe if we divorced, that’d show you… if this keeps up, we might need to separate… Unless you’re actually willing to go through with it, don’t use it to win an argument.
7. Never, ever intimidate, manipulate, or threaten.
That qualifies as emotional and verbal abuse, and it’s never a good thing. No one deserves that kind of treatment. (Read
8. NEVER get physically aggressive with your spouse.
Hitting, spitting, slapping, pushing, punching, pinching, or any other type of physical abuse is totally unacceptable. Don’t go there.
Have a good discussion with your spouse and determine the ground rules you’ll follow to have healthy arguments. Use the ones above, and add more of your own — anything to help you attack and resolve the issue without attacking each other. Write your ground rules down, stick them on the fridge, and put them in plain sight.
One last thing: the whole chess/boxing metaphor only goes so far in showing the importance of ground rules. But after that, it falls short. You see, in marriage, arguments aren’t a competition. You and your spouse aren’t opponents, even when you disagree. There’s only one winner in chess and boxing matches. In marriage, when one side wins, no one wins. Follow the ground rules, focus on the solution, and you’ll both be winners.
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***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 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.***