All couples argue. It’s usually the typical stuff- money, housework, in-laws…. But have you ever noticed that most couples argue about the same few topics over and over again? For all of you married readers out there, I am sure you can relate to this on some level. Sometimes you get stuck on this ferris wheel of arguments and you can’t seem to find your way off. Just when you think you’ve solved things and put the issue to rest, the same episode rears its ugly head again and you’re back where you started.
Having a repetitive argument does not mean you have a bad or dysfunctional marriage. Every couple is made up of two different people from two different places. Even the happiest couples don’t agree on everything!
Having said that, remaining on a ferris wheel of problems forever doesn’t have to be your solution either. There are many actions that couples can take to solve these repetitive issues and even prevent them from happening again.
1) Stop defending yourself and acknowledge your spouse’s frustration. Try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with my blog, I have twin girls who will be turning two in April. As many of you know, toddlers can be very stubborn and temperamental. They want what they want when they want it! Multiply that by two and I have a very challenging situation on my hands! I learned a very helpful technique from a book called “The happiest toddler on the block” by Harvey Karp MD. He explains that when your toddler starts throwing a tantrum but you can’t give in to her, instead of ignoring the tantrum and trying to distract her, get down on the floor to her level, look her straight in the eyes and acknowledge her feelings by saying, “Your mad, your mad, mad, mad, mad! You wanted that cookie didn’t you?” Then, slowly change the subject by offering something else. Surprisingly enough, this really works! It’s not necessarily the cookie that the child is screaming about; it’s the need for having her feelings validated before moving on to an alternative. The same is true for adults. Most level-headed adults know that an argument isn’t about winning or losing, but by acknowledging your spouse’s feelings, you are automatically giving this message: “I hear what you are saying. I see how you are feeling and I’m sorry for that. I can’t give you exactly what you want but I want to work with you to come to some sort of resolution.”
2) Strategic planning. Set boundaries to avoid future conflict.
I am a very quick, multi-tasking mommy, wife, graduate student. I like to get lots of things done in a short amount of time and I like to get an early start. My husband is a very slow mover and loves to take his time. We recently had a recurring situation which would cause us to argue every week. Our girls are at an age where they love going places and trying new activities. We try to take them somewhere every Sunday, whether it’s to a park when the weather is good or the art gallery when the weather is bad. They love going out but they also need their afternoon nap (which is somewhere between 1 and 2 pm.) Over the summer, Marc and I would decide where we wanted to take the girls and I would tell Marc every Saturday night, “I would like to get an early start tomorrow morning.” He would agree.
Sunday morning, he would leave the house at around 8:30, go to synagogue, followed by a short Torah-study session. Then he would swing by the café, pick himself up a coffee and return home at around 10:30 or 11:00. By that time he would be starving, so he would go about making himself a nice brunch and sit down at the dining room table to eat. In the meantime, the girls and I are getting more and more anxious to leave and I would be getting increasingly annoyed with my husband. “I thought we were supposed to get an early start!” We would leave for our outing around 11:30 or 12:00, argue all the way there and mess up the girls’ lunch and nap schedule. It was a mess and it was happening every weekend! Finally, I had an idea. One Saturday night I turned to Marc and said, “What would happen if I told you that I would like to get going tomorrow morning around 9:30? Would that be possible?”
“Sure he said. When you give me the exact time of departure, I know exactly when I need to be home and ready to go.”
Problem solved! A little strategic planning and our cycle was broken. Now, this was obviously not a serious or extreme example, but you get the idea. Instead of waiting for the argument to happen over and over again, what can you do to prevent it ahead of time?
3) Learn to let go.
Your spouse is not perfect. Neither are you! Everyone has a background and everyone has faults. There are always going to be things that your spouse does which drive you crazy. There are things that you do which drive your spouse crazy as well. Remember that you are not living in a perfect world so there are some things you can agree to disagree on.
4) Enlist a third party.
If there are certain issues that you and your spouse can’t seem to find a way to work out together and they are affecting your relationship, do not hesitate to seek some marriage counseling from a therapist or clergy member. These people are here to help and going to therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. It is far better to nip problems in the bud than to let them drag out before it is too late to reverse the damage.
5) Only YOU can change your behavior.
You may not be able to control your spouse’s behavior or choices but you can certainly control your reactions to them. Part of the reason couples get fired up is because they feel criticized or looked down upon by their partner. There is a great quote by Tony Robbins which says, “If you keep behaving the way you have always been, you will keep getting the results you have always been getting.” Instead of being so quick to jump up and criticize your spouse or to automatically defend yourself, stop and think about what you are about to say. Will these words be affective? Will this conversation end up being productive or destructive?
At the end of the day, a good marriage is built on love, respect, support and communication. Try your best to focus on the good!