Have you ever felt like you are stuck on an argument merry-go-round with your spouse? You probably know the normal script:
The same old issue comes up. She complains. He gets defensive. She cries. He shuts down.
Sound familiar? Or maybe it goes like this for you:
He says something. She gets hurt. He doesn’t understand and diminishes her feelings. She withdraws, and he leaves angry. No matter what feelings or emotions occur, here you are again on the same vicious cycle.
The Vicious Cycle and the Downward Spiral
Author Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in his book Love and Respect calls it the “Crazy Cycle.” He describes it this way:
“Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love-ad nauseam. Thus was born the Crazy Cycle!”
Enneagram specialists Beth and Jeff McCord call it the “Marital Dance.” They highlight that there is an external action that rises up from our internal state:
“I interpret a situation and it activates my heart. Then I react outwardly (with words and behavior). Then my spouse interprets my reactions and it activates their heart. Then they react outwardly and around and around we go.”
I’m sure if we were in the same room and I asked you, “What do you and your spouse fight about?” you could list 2-3 topics without much hesitation. We are all human. We all make mistakes and we all fight. What is important is that as you get to know each other you fight better.
Over the years we have had some pretty good arguments. We have each wounded each other pretty badly. But we have made the promise to stick in it and figure it out. So after each time we learn and attempt to do better the next time.
This isn’t easy, but it is doable. And wow, does it really produce amazing rewards! Today we are going to talk through what has helped us fight better. After reading our list, please let us know what you think. What has helped you guys stop the vicious cycle and work it out in a healthy way?
Think back to when you were a kid and you really wanted to do something, but you thought there was a good chance your parents would say “No.” Didn’t you wait until the time was perfect before you asked? You waited until they were in a good mood, and they weren’t in a hurry. You did everything you could to set yourself up for success. The same is true when you need to discuss a tricky subject with your spouse. Timing is important. In all reality there really isn’t a perfect time to have some discussions, but you can decide to choose a time that will set you up for the most success.
- Do you have enough time to talk it through? Are you in the right environment (location and seclusion) to talk?
- Is your spouse in the right mental space to process the information? Are they in a good mood? Are they tired? If they have had a rough day, maybe it isn’t the time to bring something up.
- But don’t wait too long!! It is so important that you talk about things in a timely manner. The longer you take to discuss the issue the more trouble you can have. Your spouse may not remember the interaction and you will give bitterness and anger time to set in. We can also sometimes border on avoidance if we wait too long for “the perfect time” to talk. If too much time is passing, talk with your spouse and schedule a time to talk that day or the next.
Think about what you want to accomplish during and after the conversation. Our goal should always be unity. That doesn’t mean you have to always agree but whatever you decide you want it to bring you closer together and not farther apart. It is important to us that each person’s voice is heard. Nathan and I believe that we are a team. Both of us have valuable ideas and thoughts. We have unique perspectives that make each other better. Together we can work together to come up with a best plan. We also believe the goal of communication is to understand each other. I want to know my spouse’s heart and needs so that I can tend to them and love them how they want and need. And I want my spouse to do the same for me.
It’s all about the delivery. You could be eating at a restaurant enjoying an amazing meal but if the waiter is rude it will leave a sour taste in your mouth. The same is true in marriage. You can be 100% right but your delivery can ruin the whole entire conversation. Nathan reminds me with the kids to watch my facial expressions and tone of voice. Both need to be conveying you matter, I want to know you, understand you and love you in the way you feel loved. Are you able to talk about the issue in this matter? If not, here are some tips.
- Listen more than you speak
- Ask clarifying questions
- Pause before you talk
- Use first person statements instead of 3rd person accusations.
- Be aware of your tone of voice and facial expressions. Are they expressing love and concern or disrespect and annoyance?
- Ask your spouse what they need.
- Verbalize back how you will respond. How will you make things right? How will you prevent the same situation from happening in the future.
Are you ready to get the Merry-Go-Round spinning? Or are you ready to fight right? Here are some questions to ask yourself before going into the conversation:
- Why am I so passionate about this issue? Why does this specific thing irritate me so much? Does it hit a wound from my past?
- How does this situation make me feel? What am I afraid of? What about this situation seems unfair?
- Do I believe my spouse meant to hurt me? If so, why do I think that?
- Is the issue really the issue? Or is this just a symptom of a greater problem?
- Am I going into the conversation with an open mind or a determination to get my way? Do I care about their opinion, wants and desires?
- What part did I play in this situation? How could I have handled it differently?
- What do I need going forward? What changes do we each need to do to prevent this from happening again?
- What do I need to own and ask forgiveness for?
- How can I prepare myself to give them forgiveness?
This Isn’t Easy
Fighting Right is not easy. It doesn’t come naturally. (If it was, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post!) Which part of the fighting is the hardest for you and your spouse? Right Timing, Right Way, or Right Goals? Read through the section that is the hardest for you to do. Read the Right Questions to see which are the most pertinent. Pick one or two action plans that you can commit to the next time you find yourself in an argument. Tell your spouse which ones you want to focus on. This way they can hear your heart and extend a little grace as they see you make the effort to get better. This is big! You and your spouse love each other, and you are on the same team. Of course disagreements will happen, but if you fight right you will find that these conflicts actually build trust and bring you closer. You can do this!
What Do You Think?
What has helped you and your spouse in the past stay on the path of unity?
Disclaimer: We don’t do this right, a lot of the time. Just because we know WHAT to do doesn’t mean we always do it. But when a fight doesn’t go well, we come back to these basics to try to do better the next time.