We've all been in arguments with our spouse or significant other before. It's just what happens when humans enter relationship with one another. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if we could reduce the amount of arguments we have with our significant other? I think we can. Here are five questions to help you do so.
No one likes arguing with their spouse. Also true: no one can completely avoid arguing with their spouse.
There’s just something about the closeness that marriage brings which makes it essentially impossible to not argue at least sometimes.
And for the record, arguments aren’t necessarily bad. They generally spring out of disagreements and disagreements are an extraordinarily healthy part of human relationships.
In fact, if you never disagree with your spouse or partner, I’d actually be a bit more concerned.
But while arguments and disagreements are bound to happen between you and spouse or partner, I think it’s fair to say that we would all like to reduce how often they happen, right?
I’ve got five questions that I think can help end an argument between you and your spouse. Contrary to what you might’ve been hoping for, these are not questions to ask your spouse.
Nope. These are questions to ask yourself. One of the fastest ways to end an argument is to begin with the role you play in it.
So here we go. Question number one.
Have you ever been in an argument with your spouse or partner over something that, on reflection, turned out to be kind of petty?
You’re in good company. I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened to me. And it’s not like I’m trying for this. It’s often a result of my pride that I end up in these places.
Directions is a great example. It’s taken me quite a while, but I’ve come to learn that I’m somewhat directionally-challenged. My wife, on the other hand, not so much.
Driving together has had a way of fostering arguments. I don’t like getting advice on which way to go despite the fact that there are times when I actually could use the assistance. And there we go: a small, but scalable argument takes seed.
If not for my pride, however, this wouldn’t have happened. And how do I know this? Because I asked myself what I really care about.
And what is it that I really cared about? Being right and knowing the right way to go. Once I can see this, it becomes obvious that the argument doesn’t need to go a second longer.
Sometimes what we really care about isn’t obvious. What do you do in the case when you’re argument is characterized by anger?
Ask yourself this next question.
Psychologists and therapists will tell you that anger is almost always a “secondary emotion.”
What’s a secondary emotion? It’s the emotion that comes after the first emotion. We often experience the secondary emotion so quickly after the triggering event, though, that it feels to us like a primary emotion.
Anger tends to be one of these secondary emotions.
In an argument with your spouse or partner? Feeling angry about something they did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say?
Ask yourself what’s underneath the anger. Here’s a hint: the most common primary emotions that come before anger are feeling hurt or feeling shame.
When we feel hurt or shame in response to something done or said by someone else, we often move to anger because the feelings of hurt and shame are too difficult to tolerate.
This leads naturally into the third question. (And by the way, no particular order to ask these in.)
Arguments between us and our close ones often result from us not being honest about how we really feel.
What happens is that we fail to express how we really feel because we’re expecting our spouse or partner to just know! After all, their our spouse or significant partner—they should have perfect insight into our minds!
Or this is probably what we believe deep down even though we wouldn’t like to admit it.
Admitting is a crucial first step, though. It’s important to realize that we have this expectation of our spouse or partner, and then to notice that it’s unfair.
It’s simply not our spouse’s or partner’s responsibility to know how we’re feeling; instead, it’s our responsibility to communicate how we’re really feeling.
Next time you’re in an argument with your spouse, partner, or really anyone else for that matter, ask yourself if you’re being honest about your feelings.
You might be noticing at this point that arguments can be extremely complex. This is because we, the people having the arguments, are extremely complex.
The question, “Have I experienced something like this before?” helps to illustrate our complexity.
Without getting too lost in the complexity of human psychology, notice that we all have memories. But not all of these memories are in our awareness. Moreover, not all of these memories are positive.
This means that we can have both negative and positive memories we’re not even aware of. Weird, but also kind of nice. (Wouldn’t it be miserable if every single memory we had was always in our awareness?)
What can happen in an argument, or just before the argument started, is that one of these negative memories can get reenacted somehow.
Best to give an example here.
Imagine your mother told you she would pick you up from school when you were young and then she never showed up because she forgot. You were left and felt embarrassed because the after-school workers couldn’t go home until you got picked up.
Fast forward 20 years. You’re now married. Your wife tells you she’ll meet you for dinner after work. You get there early, reserve the table, and spend an hour waiting for her. She never shows up, so you go home.
When you get home, you’re angry and ask your wife what happened. She tells you her phone died and she didn’t know how to get to the restaurant without directions.
Yet, you’re still angry. And an argument ensues.
What I hope you can see in this is that your anger is not really about your wife—after all, she didn’t do anything worth blaming her for, right? Phones die all the time; it was a new restaurant she hadn't been too before.
By reflecting on whether you’ve ever experienced something like this before, you discover the link to your earlier memory of being forgotten at school.
Your anger settles, the argument begins to experience resolve. This is the hope, anyway. This kind of approach takes practice and hard work, but it’s perfectly available to you.
Okay, last question.
I’ll keep this one short and to the point.
Have you ever been arguing about something and you end up losing track of the thing you were initially arguing about?
In other words, your end goal has faded from view.
When you find yourself lost in an argument, ask yourself what your end goal is. This question produces clarity. And clarity produces an end to an argument.
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