It’s a myth that happy couples don’t fight. Disagreements are inevitable — normal, even.
Pro tip: Don’t waste energy trying to avoid conflict. Instead, aim your focus on the concept of conflict management and resolution. When arguments occur, what may matter most is how you treat each other and work to move forward.
Another pro tip: Never, ever tell a ticked-off spouse to “calm down.”
But Aren’t We Supposed to Keep Calm and Carry On?
Taking relationship advice from a t-shirt catchphrase is rarely a good idea. Calm can be wonderful and contagious. But anger and fear and grief and guilt are all valid, normal emotions. Such emotions often inspire other emotions and that usually doesn’t involve staying calm. Therefore, if we accept conflict as inevitable and normal, we must assign the same status to our emotional reactions to conflicts. This, of course, is never an excuse for threats, bullying, or abuse. Rather, we’re talking about healthy feelings that arise in response to a challenging situation.
5 Things NOT to Do When Your Spouse is Ticked Off:
1. DO NOT Invalidate Your Partner’s Feelings
Case in point: “Calm down.”
You are each allowed to feel however you feel. That’s not the conflict. The conflict needs a solution. Feelings are normal. You don’t need to control or squelch your partner’s emotions.
2. DO NOT Treat the Quarrel Like a Competition
Arguments are not about earning another notch in your belt. This attitude inspires more conflict. Embrace the nuances and work as a team, regardless of your emotions.
3. DO NOT Get Aggressive (even unconsciously)
There is never a place for abusive behavior. To adhere to this edict requires more diligence than you might imagine. We can slip into an aggressive approach unconsciously. So keep checking yourself. Remain aware of your tone, nonverbals, and your level of self-control throughout the interaction.
4. DO NOT Get Passive-Aggressive
Passive-aggressive tactics only guarantee that the conflict will linger. They breed frustration and resentment. In addition, they sow doubt as one spouse may feel they cannot trust the other to be honest and direct.
5. DO NO View the Disagreement as a Catastrophe
Disagreement is rarely the sign of an unfixable situation. Viewing a fight through the lens of “the marriage is over” is a recipe for drama and unnecessary escalation.
Some General Conflict Resolution Guidelines
Clarify Your Feelings
Clarity is key. You must do the work to understand how and what you feel. You must also do the work of communicating to your spouse how and what you feel. Without such clarity, you can slide into the realm of assumptions, doubts, resentment, and passive-aggressive behavior.
Aim For Solutions, Not Wins
This has been touched on a few times already but it cannot be overstated. A solution is much, much different (and better) than a victory. It’s not about being more right. It’s about finding common ground and building on it.
You may have to step away and choose another time to pick up the discussion. Time and distance can be your allies. Learn to embrace patience in the name of the above-mentioned solutions.
Recognize When You Could Use Some Help
There is absolutely ZERO shame in being stuck. If it’s solutions you seek, you can find fresh ways towards that noble goal.
When Your Therapist is Your Much-Needed Referee
Not all conflicts are created equal. Some disagreements spring from deeper issues that have gone too long without examination. This might result in confusion, deflection, and misguided anger. In other words, you and your spouse may simply need some help.
Couples counseling is like relationship refereeing. You get an unbiased, professional guide to help you reframe and more deeply explore the fight. Those regular sessions can become safe spaces for honest discussions, healthy challenges, and productive strategizing. You might even say it’s the place where you both find calm through healthy communication.