Many couples try to “solve” their problems, when in fact, many problems can’t be solved. How much time to spend with the in-laws, how to spend money, how to discipline children, who does various chores…these arguments will happen over and over. They aren’t problems that can be permanently fixed.
So one thing I’ve thought a lot about is how the Big Man and I can fight right. How can we have arguments that are productive and loving, not exhausting, unpleasant, and pointless?
I’m much more likely to tackle a subject. The Big Man tries to avoid an argument at all cost – usually, with the simple tactic of not answering me when I raise some difficult issue – which just makes me madder, of course.
I can’t say that I’ve made a huge amount of progress, but these are the tips I’m trying to follow, in order to fight right:
1. Joke about the conflict. This is hardest for me, but also the most effective. For example, seemingly out of pure cussedness, the Big Man often refuses to give me information – silly things, like what time we’re meeting friends for brunch. It drives me crazy. The last time he did it, I managed to say, “Are you in the C.I.A? Why is everything around here on a need-to-know basis?” He laughed, I laughed, and I felt a lot better. He hasn’t changed his behavior, but I’ve lightened up about it.
2. Take a break. Marriage expert John Gottman recommends a twenty-minute recess if an argument gets too heated. This strategy works well, but it’s tough to think to do it when you’re in the midst of a fight. Sometimes it happens by chance, when the phone rings or the dog throws up.
3. Throw money at the problem. Hiring a teenager to mow the lawn, buying prepared food, or getting a babysitter once a week might eliminate a source of friction. Peace in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.
4. Hug and kiss. One of the things I appreciate most about the Big Man is that he hugs and kisses me all the time: he puts his arm around me when we’re at a party, he gives me a good-bye morning kiss, a hello evening kiss, and a good-night kiss. This goes a long way – especially during an argument, when a quick hug or even a touch can transform the mood. To optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, hold your hug for at least six seconds.
5. Make “repair attempts.” During a fight, make gestures to keep things from getting too ugly. Laugh; throw in a comment like, “I know what you’re talking about,” “I see what you mean,” or “I’m trying to do better,”; admit where you’re wrong, and most important – I have to remind myself of this often – let the fight end. Let it go. Have the discussion, then change the subject.
Zoikes, I would have missed seeing this Jane Brody article in the New York Times if a friend hadn’t sent me the link. As I have been known to remark more than once, a fairly painless and simple way of cutting calories out of your diet is NOT TO DRINK them. For a great article on the science behind this advice, check out Personal Health: You Are Also What You Drink. One crazy fact: about 21% of the calories consumed by Americans (more than 2 years old) come from beverages — soft drinks and fruit juices, for the most part.