French moralist Joseph Joubert once said, “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress”.
There is so much wisdom in this statement. It can be particularly helpful in marriage where disagreements are almost inevitable. A simple disagreement can quickly turn into an argument, which can then turn into a fight where the sole purpose is to win. It is almost ingrained in many people to fight to win, so it is perfectly reasonable that in marriage, you say and do things that are completely out of character in the interest of winning an argument with your spouse.
Most people get to know their spouse before they get married. You ask questions, you share stories that influenced you and you compromise in the interest of making your future spouse happy. Marriage changes that. Once you know you have the person forever, you tend to abandon the need to please them all the time. It is rational to conclude that you cannot always please your spouse.
However, when you argue with your spouse, it means you have found a difference in each other that perhaps you did not see before marriage. It is important to your marriage that you take time to explore that difference, understand where it is coming from, and find an acceptable compromise.
Your approach to a disagreement sets the tone for where the disagreement leads. If you are emotional, angry or overwhelmed, it may be good to take some time to collect yourself. If you were approaching your boss or a co-worker with a difference in opinion, you would most likely handle the issue with care and have thought carefully about your approach. Your marriage should be approached with the same care, perhaps more, because this is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Most disagreements are best approached without an audience, so bringing up your disappointment with a decision your spouse made should not be done in front of your mother.
Listening to your spouse is a key element in a fair fight. If you interrupt, yell over or walk away when your spouse is stating his/her stance on an issue, you portray that you only want to win. If you choose to say derogatory things, throw your spouses past in their face or call them names, you are abusing your spouse. You may win the argument, but it will most likely be at the expense of your marriage.
Being accusatory rarely helps in an argument with your spouse. If you accuse your spouse of not caring about you or the family because you differ in opinions, you create a breeding ground for defensiveness and resentment. It would be more constructive to ask why this is so important to your spouse and how it is good for you and/or the family. “You’re wrong”, “That’s not true”, and “That’s not what I want” are also statements that will prompt your spouse to defend him or her self or resent you. On the other hand, “I disagree”, is a neutral, non-accusatory statement and when followed with your position on the issue, can be enlightening for your spouse.
If you see yourself or your spouse becoming defensive in an argument, or if the argument is becoming highly emotional, there is nothing wrong with saying that you need to consider the issue further before responding. Sometimes setting a time when you can re-approach the issue helps. Sometimes simply saying that you will discuss the issue further once you have re-organized your thoughts and feelings can help. Which response works best in this situation should be made considering both yourself and your spouse. The issue may be important enough to your spouse to warrant a time when you will respond. If that is the case, give yourself plenty of room to think about the issue and your spouse a set time when you will return to discuss it.
It is also important to recognize a situation where the two of you will never agree. If there is no middle ground to be found, and the issue is not paramount to the survival of your marriage, you have to know when to agree to disagree. Your spouse does not have to agree with you on every issue in order to love you. In fact, the little things you disagree on can be endearing to one another. If the issue is vital to the survival of your marriage, and you cannot compromise, marriage counseling may be a consideration. Many married couples turn away from counseling until their relationship is in danger of being over. This is a mistake. Not only can marriage counseling help you find a solution to your current problem, but it can also help you find more productive ways to communicate with your spouse.
It is natural to want your spouse to be in agreement with you. It is this desire to be in agreement that can make the above suggestions hard to execute. However, these suggestions can be a good foundation for a fair fight. Marriage is a union between to people, not a free pass to abuse or otherwise hurt your spouse. Avoiding permanent damage to your marriage is in learning to take the above steps and respect both your needs and your spouses.