Today we welcome Daniel Robertson from God’s Help for Marriage, as he shares about how to win every argument with your spouse–the answer is so good, you BOTH actually win!
This past summer I was working a temp job at the local county fair. One day, before my shift started, I took my wife and kids (and mother-in-law) to the fair for some family fun. But this trip ended in an epic argument between me and my wife. One of the worst we’ve ever had in 7 years of marriage.
I’ll also share how we overcame this argument, and the secret to winning every argument with your spouse. This secret is so powerful that not only will you win, but so will your spouse.
We were having a great time at the fair. The kids loved the Ferris Wheel. I think I took each of them on it twice, even though I don’t like heights. But what they loved even more was the dance floor, where they were playing country music and a bunch of kids were goofing off and dancing in a way that only little kids can do. They spent quite a bit of time there dancing around.
In fact, I was starting to get antsy because I wanted to show them more of the fair, and it was getting closer to the start of my work shift. I also wanted to help my wife get the kids in the car before my shift started. I hinted at my wife a few times that I wanted to go do something else, but she didn’t take these hints.
Sidenote: Hinting is not a great form of communication. I’m learning to be more direct with my requests.
After a few of these hints, I was really starting to get frustrated. I also knew that my 3 year old son was likely to throw a temper tantrum if and when I did try to get him to leave. I figured it would be better to get him away from the crowd to throw his tantrum, so I swooshed in and grabbed him. I pulled him away, with him kicking and screaming the whole time.
All of this happened without communicating with my wife about what I was planning. Huge mistake.
She was furious, and embarrassed to be seen with me after that. I looked like the mean daddy, who dragged his kid away from his fun. I thought I was the hero, who was taking charge and preventing a very public 3-year-old tantrum.
Sensing my wife’s fury, I knew it was time to end the fair date. I helped her get the kids into the car, and then tried to make amends with my wife. I explained why I did that, and she explained why I was wrong in what I did. I reached out to hug her and told her I loved her. She pushed me away and said something like “I hate you” or “I don’t love you”–with more vehemence than I could ever have imagined coming from her.
I was infuriated by her rejection. I don’t think I’ve ever been more hurt in my life. So I went to my car to get my badge and uniform shirt, and I still had maybe half an hour before my shift started, so I sat in my car, fuming. How could she say what she did? How could she let me start off a work day with this hanging between us?
So, how did we recover from this argument? How did we both end up winning?
I’ll tell you in a bit. But first, I’d like to talk about some common questions couples have about arguing.
How Often do Happy Couples Argue?
Despite this epically bad argument, my wife and I are a very happy couple. And happy couples argue just as much as any other couple.
In other words, it doesn’t really matter how much you argue. Argue a lot. Argue a little bit. It doesn’t make a huge difference on your overall happiness in the long term.
In some ways, arguing is actually a sign of a healthy relationship. Each person brings different beliefs, ideas, and values to marriage. You probably even have different ways of doing the same task.
Sometimes, these conflicting attitudes cause arguments. And that’s OK. It shows that each of you is willing to stand up for your values and positions. And that’s a good thing. If a couple told me they never argue, I would suspect one of them of being a wallflower or having given up.
What’s the Right Way to Argue?
Again, HOW you argue isn’t actually all that important in your long term happiness as a couple. It probably matters more than how often you argue, but not by much.
Some happy couples break all the “rules” of how to fight fair. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Use “Active Listening” techniques
- Don’t get defensive
- Don’t use blame-shifting
- Don’t say “always” or “never”
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements
- Don’t attack your spouse’s character
- Stay on topic
All of this is good advice. Follow it, if you can. But let’s be honest. In the heat of the moment, all of this good advice goes out the window. Even for the happiest couples.
The one rule you need to stick to every time is to not use violence when you argue. Spousal abuse is never OK. Other than that, all of the “arguing rules” are guidelines.
The Real Secret to Winning Every Argument is What you do After the Fight
OK, let me finish the rest of my story. A few minutes into my work shift at the fair, my wife called me and apologized for how she reacted. It was probably less than an hour after our fight. Definitely less than two. She also offered to bring me lunch at my break, which I had been planning to ask her to do until our argument broke out.
In other words, she made a peace offering.
In her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages” Shaunti Feldhahn reveals this as the secret:
“When highly happy couples inevitably experience hurt feelings and conflict, they will at some point mutually reconnect by sharing a private signal that says ‘We’re okay.'”
After an argument, happy couples reach out and reestablish their friendship and commitment to each other. I initially reached out to my wife by trying to hug her and tell her I loved her. Although she rejected my initial peace offering, it wasn’t long before she made her own attempt to reestablish connection with me.
Maybe you stay angry for days after an argument with your spouse. You might stonewall, push your husband or wife away, or just shut down. All while stewing in anger and bitterness and thinking negative thoughts about him or her. These thoughts are particularly damaging because they shift your perceptions of your spouse. The longer these thoughts continue, the more these negative perceptions become a part of your subconscious thinking patterns.
For instance, after our fight all I could think about was how badly my wife overreacted, and how could she let me start work like that, and all kinds of uncharitable thoughts about her.
These negative thoughts stopped instantly once she called and apologized. They were immediately replaced by feelings of gratitude and friendship.
It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with resolving the conflict. My wife and I never reached an agreement of who was “right” and who was “wrong”. We did come to an understanding of WHY we each did what we did, but we never agreed that those reasons were right.
There are some conflicts you will probably never resolve in your marriage. You’ll keep arguing about the same things over and over again. In some cases you might be able to reach a good compromise. In others, you might just have to agree to disagree.
But if you quickly reconnect with your spouse after an argument, you both win. Every time.
So how do you do this? The best way is to apologize and make some kind of “peace offering” after the argument. It might be as simple as a hug. Or maybe you make a goofy face or tell a joke to try to get your spouse to laugh. Or you touch pinkies as a secret sign that says “We’re okay”.
Or there’s my personal favorite: make up sex.
And if your spouse offers a peace offering, do your best to accept it. Maybe you aren’t ready right away. If not, it’s important that you make the next move. As soon as you are ready, make your own attempt to reconcile and reconnect.
Whoever makes the initial move, it’s best if this happens within a few hours of the argument. Or within a day at most. The sooner this happens, the better.
Daniel Robertson is a Christian husband and father and writes about how to improve your marriage with Biblical principles. Download his free report to discover 3 simple keys to create more passion and intimacy in your marriage, or read his recent post on 15 tips to rock your marriage in 2015.
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