Fire Proof Your Marriage: Part 3

“Love Fights Fair”

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I don’t know how it goes for you when you get in an argument with your spouse, but for me it’s usually about having one “winner” and one “loser” at the end of it.  Is this truly the way we should be approaching a “fight”?  Are there healthy ways to resolve our disagreements where you both feel good about the outcome?

In the article “Fighting Fair in A Relationship:  How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It,” Karen Young talks about 19  “do’s” and “don’ts”  about fight fair:

  1. Don’t Fear Conflict
  •   When you are in a devoted and close relationship conflict will exist.  Conflict is how you are able to learn from and see each other’s side on issues.  Not seeing eye-to-eye is “normal, healthy, and sometimes necessary when there is something important at stake for both of you.”
  1.  Attack the Issue, Not Each Other
  •  In the heat of the moment it can be easy to say things that we can’t take back.  “Don’t name call or bring the other person down to get on top of the argument.”  Sometimes it is good to take a “timeout” from the argument for a few minutes, to regroup and rejoin the conversation when both of you are less emotional and able to think more clearly.
  1.  Stay with the Issue at Hand
  •  How many times have you rehashed old issues in order to win?  I have been guilty of this myself.  This just leads to more contention and less problem solving.  “It’s the quickest way to send an argument off track and land you in a place you forget what you were fighting for.”
  1.  Don’t Confuse the Topics with the Issue
  •  Often times when we begin arguing with our spouse other issues that have been unresolved come up.  You may start arguing about the topic of leaving the toilet seat up and for some reason that leads back in to the unsettled issue of rising credit card debt.   “If you keep fighting over different things but you always seem to end up on the same issue (e.g. money or the night he/you came home late), that issue is actually where your work needs to be…Give what’s needed for the issue to let go of the grip it has on your relationship…”
  1.  Don’t Downplay the Issue
  • Ignoring a problem does not make it go away! “If feelings or needs aren’t resolved, the will come out through other topics.”
  1. Don’t’ Withdraw, or Chase
  • It can be easy to put up our defensive walls when we are feeling attacked and refuse to engage in an argument.  It can also be easy to pursue the argument if we are feeling ignored.  “One way to change that is to name your contribution to the issue… ‘I know I probably haven’t helped things by…’ or, ‘I know I upset you when I…’ This makes it easier for your partner to trust that you aren’t only out for blood.”
  1.  Be Open, Nobody Can Read Your Mind
  • How much easier would it be if we could read minds!?!  How many times have you had a disagreement expecting your spouse to already know what is wrong without being told? Guilty!  “Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.”
  1.  Find the Real Emotion beneath the Anger
  •  In my own marriage I find that it is easy to accuse each other of being angry.  That is the “go to” emotion to turn too.  “But anger is a secondary emotion—it never exists on its own and always has another emotion beneath it.”  If you can get to the real emotion being expressed you will have more success in responding to your partners true concern.
  1.  Be Attentive
  • There is nothing worse than feeling like your spouse is not listening to you.  Having the television on during an argument in our house is sure to lead to one of us feeling like the other isn’t listening.  Give your spouse you undivided attention, no matter what!
  1. Don’t Yell
  • “If the argument is at yelling point, nobody is being heard because nobody is listening. At this point, someone needs to be the hero and calm it all down.”
  1.  Stay Away from ‘You Always’ or ‘You Never’
  • “Nobody is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything and using these words will just inflame.”
  1.  Be Curious
  • If you aren’t asking for details than you are probably trying to come up with a rebuttal.  This type of strategy leads you nowhere fast!  “Slow things down and ask for details. This shows that you’re open to getting things sorted out.”
  1. Honestly Accept that Nobody is Perfect
  •  I have the hardest time accepting criticism but I can be really good at dishing it out.  This may be because of how my spouse is sending the message or because I am unwilling to accept that I have flaws.  “If you are the one with the wise words, say it in a way that can be heard by being generous in the delivery.”
  1.  Watch out for the Passive-Aggressive
  • ‘I’m just being honest …’, or ‘I’m not criticizing you but …’ or ‘You’re probably not going to like hearing this but …’
  1.  If You’re Wrong, Apologize
  2. If You’re Going around in Circles, Stop
  • If you feel like you are on a merry-go-round, saying the same things over and over again “slow things down and communicate to your partner your understanding of their side of things…try finding a different way to say it and check you aren’t too much on the attack.”
  1.  Find Common Ground
  •  Many times my husband and I end an argument with agreeing to disagree.  “Anything that will help to get you both back on the same team is a good thing.”
  1.  Give in or Compromise
  • “Any small concession is the groundwork for bigger ones.”
  1.  Don’t leave it unfinished
  • “Find a resolution, otherwise it will continue to press for closure.”
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The next time you feel like putting on those boxing gloves when you are fighting with your spouse, remember that a house divided against itself does not stand!  Talk with your spouse about setting rules of engagement went it comes to fighting fair and stick to those rules, no matter what!

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Finding the Magic: State of the Union Meeting

In “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver wrote that couples who rate themselves “happy” consistently spend time together to strengthen their marriage.  At the time of publication, Gottman’s group had identified how an investment of just five hours per week was linked to increased marital satisfaction.  These “5 Magic Hours” as they came to be known consisted of a series of daily connection points and a weekly date night.

In the nearly 20 years since the book’s publication, our culture has changed dramatically.  Many of these changes can be tied to inventions of technology and an increase of two-income households. These changes lead Gottman to reexamine his 5 Magic Hours and add one more hour of time. This sixth hour is set aside for “State of the Union” meetings.

State of the Union meetings are opportunities for couples to sit down together each week and communicate specifically on issues that affect their relationship. As one couple said, these meetings are a way to keep their marriage on track.

Now I have to make a confession.  When I read about the new “6 Magic Hours”, I thought it was a little overboard. I already felt as though my marriage was strong. We were already following Gottman’s other suggestions and often have long discussions while on our weekly date night. I didn’t see the benefit or feel that we had the time for an additional hour of effort each week. Still, I decided to challenge my opinion and researched the benefits of these meetings.  I can now honestly say that I am excited to have “State of our Union” meetings with my wonderful partner.

Through my research, I learned of Marcia Berger who literally wrote the book on marriage meetings. Berger suggests that meetings should be broken into four parts: Appreciation, Chores, Planning for the Good Times, and Problems/Challenges. These four parts combined together will renew your romance, solidify your friendship, stop potential conflicts before they begin, and help you smoothly run your household economy.

Appreciation: Berger suggests all marriage meetings should begin with exchanges of gratitude. This was a new idea for me, but I decided to try it in my marriage. Spending a few minutes expressing gratitude for each other brings closeness and opens up your hearts to love and listen to each other. Making this a habit also means your mind focuses on what you are grateful for throughout the week. I caught myself thinking “Oh I want to remember to tell him how much I appreciate that.”

If showing appreciation seems hard at first, try to focus on specific actions. One example might be, “I appreciate how you put away my laundry for me. It was so nice to open my drawer and find just what I needed.” This statement is more personal than “Thank you for doing the laundry.”

Whatever you share keep it positive. This is not the time to discuss disappointments.

Chores: Berger refers to this time as the “business of the meeting.” This is the time for each of you to talk about things that need to be completed, share calendar items, and discuss assignments. In our family my husband is the list maker, and capturing these details is his time to shine.

Once the list is arranged by priority, take the time to make assignments on who will accomplish each task. Think of this time as a time to brainstorm the best possible solutions. If you drive by the dry cleaner on your way to work, perhaps it would be easier for you to stop by and pick up some items.  Sometimes it may be appropriate to assign one of the tasks to one of the children.

Remember that chores are not meant to be split 50-50. Marriage has no place for keeping score. Instead think of this as a time to serve each other and the family. If you both give your all, what needs to be accomplished will get done and you can both celebrate together.

Lastly, this section of the meeting can be used to talk about finances. In our family, we have decided to follow the advice of Dave Ramsey and limit the budget talks to 15 minutes. My husband is the genius behind the budget while I admit to being the primary spender, therefore he presents the budget at our meeting and it is my job to change at least one thing. This shows I am actually paying attention and making an investment in our financial future.

Planning for the Good Times: After all of the hard chores are over comes the fun stuff. Planning for the good times means you discuss upcoming events, dates and vacations. You make plans for when these items will happen and you make decisions about saving together. One fun idea is to discuss a dream vacation you would like to take together. Plan the trip, look at the cost, and think about the things you would need in order to accomplish your goal.  One option is to create a chart to track your savings. Place this chart somewhere you can see it and each week at your meetings enjoy discussing your progress towards your goal.

Another idea for this time period is to plan upcoming date nights. Discuss restaurants you would like to try or activities you might enjoy.  Put these ideas on the calendar.  When you take time to make a plan you show each other and yourself that your relationship is important.

Problems/ Challenges: This section comes at the end of the meeting because couples need to feel connected and invested in your relationship before treading these waters. Each partner is now given a chance to bring up a concern they are having. This is not a time for dumping on each other. Individuals should bring up no more than two grievances.

Think of this as a time to brainstorm ideas. If it helps, set a timer to make sure problems are not harped upon until one partner feels the need to shut down or become defensive. Keep in mind that 70% of marriage problems are never solved and that is okay.  When there is communication and a real desire to work together, couples usually see that the positive qualities in their relationship outweigh the negative qualities.

Few couples actually take the time to discuss relationship concerns. Instead, comments are made in passing and “bombs” are dropped at times when there isn’t time to really listen or discuss them. Having a weekly meeting can have a huge impact on the marriage relationship. One study even suggested a 20% to 80% increase in marital happiness when couples start to regularly hold these meetings.

Clearly, Gottman knew what he was doing when he added the State of the Union Meetings to his list of Magic Hours.  And couples will the beneficiaries of that change for many years to come.

For more ideas on weekly State of the Union meetings check out “The Power of a Weekly Marriage Meeting,” but Brent and Katie McKay.

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