15 Ways to Calm a Fight

15 Ways to Calm a Fight - #staymarriedHave you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere? Have you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere AND you wanted it to end, but couldn’t figure out how to stop bickering? The way a couple ends a fight says a lot about the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage. Dr. John Gottman, the foremost researcher on marriage, calls these fight ending techniques “Repair Attempts” and says the way they are delivered and whether or not they are received can predict the longevity of the relationship!

Tony and I agree that in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the overarching ideas really come down to having good manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books on marriage, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? None of the research out there says that couples should avoid fighting. Instead, Dr. Gottman and researchers like him concentrate on how couples fight. One thing they’ve noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive these repair attempts.

I threw out this idea to some friends and asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Here’s what some of them said… Continue reading “15 Ways to Calm a Fight”

Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay

Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay - Michelle Peterson on #staymarriedEvery couple has their perpetual problems. These are the problems that you fight and argue about, but nothing seems to change. You plead your case, you hear their side of it, you may even reach some kind of agreement or compromise, and then, before too long, you are arguing about it all over again. Perpetual.

Early in your marriage, you may argue and disagree about a number of things. I mean, you should. You’re still figuring each other out and navigating what it’s like to live together. Your expectations and dreams are confronted with reality and those things never line up completely.

In our first year, we argued about Tony leaving wet towels on the bed or which of my piles of clothes were clean and which were dirty and why I never put the dirty ones in the hamper… What if I can get one more wear out of those jeans before I do laundry? Little things, no biggie… That is what that first year is about – discovery. We didn’t know then that some of the things we argued and disagreed about, some of the things that hurt, would become the things that we still can’t come to terms with eight years into our marriage.

On our 8th Anniversary date, over tapas, we discussed our perpetual problem. Continue reading “Some Problems In Your Marriage Are Here To Stay”

What Would Happen if We Did Not Argue?

If a couple really loves each other, they won’t argue.
Arguing is not the right way to handle problems.
Anger and arguing are sinful behaviors.

What Would Happen If We Did Not Argue? - #staymarried

These are not statements we make on #staymarried. But, I realized recently that they are statements many of you have heard and believed.

What We Learned From Our Parents

You may have heard these things in your childhood from your particular sect of faith, or maybe you understood them as truths because you never witnessed your parents disagree about anything. Or, on the other side of the pendulum swing, you saw your parents yell and fight bitterly your entire childhood and vowed you would never be in a relationship like that.

So much of our understanding of what is healthy and loving is informed by the first relationship we ever witnessed – our parents’. This is good when your parents actually had a healthy relationship. However, it can be a damaging hurdle to overcome if your parents’ relationship was unhealthy.

It’s because I grew up in a single-parent home that I Continue reading “What Would Happen if We Did Not Argue?”

Two Steps to a Better Fight

Two Steps to a Better Fight - 70 percent of marital conflicts are not resolvable - #staymarriedRinse and Repeat

Sometimes I feel like we are having the same arguments over and over again. I hate asking for help, but if I don’t ask, he doesn’t automatically know what I need. I grumble, he starts to try to figure out what the problem is, he gets frustrated that I don’t come right out and say what’s on my mind, and I get frustrated that I have to say anything at all.

“Why don’t you see what I see? Why do I always have to say things and ask you for help?”

“Babe, I just don’t. I see other things – the garbage, the lawn, the bills – I don’t expect you to see those things. You know if you just say something, I’m happy to help.”

“I know! It’s just that I hate asking all the time…”

Rinse and repeat.

It’s one of our seasonal tiffs; it’s always the same. Do you have one of those? Most couples do. If we were sitting across from each other over coffee and I asked you, “What’s the thing you guys fight about most?” you’d have an answer instantly. If you felt like you could trust me, you may even tell me what that was. It’s ok. You can trust me…

We Don’t Have to Compromise

The good news is there isn’t any research that indicates that a healthy marriage is one without conflict. In fact, research does tell us that Continue reading “Two Steps to a Better Fight”

Still… No Yelling!!! – And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting

Ugghh… We got into a really bad fight the other night. There was yelling, and hurtful words, and crying, and I hated it. Only, the fight I had was with a close relative – not my husband.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

Is it just me, or is it a universal fact that those we love most, those that are the very closest to us, know better than anyone just what to say to really crush us? It’s awful. C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” I want the love without the brokenness. I want peace more than strife.

This fight reminded me that as much as I try my best to communicate for understanding, as much as I hope to give people the benefit of the doubt, there is still a fire burning inside of me. If I feel like I am being backed into a corner, my natural reaction is to Continue reading “Still… No Yelling!!! – And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting”

How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage

How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage - #staymarried“It’s so hard to be around them sometimes. They get so defensive if I say anything at all.”

I was complaining to Tony, my new boyfriend at the time, about a couple of people I was working with.

“Yeah,” he said innocently, “You can be pretty defensive, too.”

Cue internal outrage… What!?!? Did he just tell me that I’m defensive? I AM NOT DEFENSIVE! Wait… am I? Wow, I am falling in love with this guy and I think he feels the same way about me AND he thinks I’m defensive… Maybe I am. How did I not know this about myself?…

The subject died. I had nothing to say after he made his very nonchalant observation. I mean, I wasn’t going to try to get into a fight with him about me being defensive… that would have only proven him right.

I swallowed his words and tried to be much more thoughtful about the way I responded to situations and comments that frustrated me. I think he’s right; I am naturally defensive. But, I mean, who isn’t? Doesn’t everyone want the chance to defend themselves when they feel like they are being insulted, misunderstood, or attacked? It seems so automatic that there isn’t anything I can do about it.

What is your ADS?

It seems automatic because defensiveness in some ways is automatic. In fact, Dr. Steven Stosny, an expert in anger and relationship problems, refers to defensiveness in relationships as a hypersensitive Automatic Defense System (ADS). He says that it is much more reactionary than Continue reading “How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage”

Three Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them

3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarriedPeople, it’s back. That wretched insomnia that propelled me to start writing for #staymarried in the first place has crept back into my life. I cannot sleep! I lay awake thinking and remembering and imagining and planning and regretting and not sleeping. It’s pretty ridiculous.

Don’t feel bad for me, though. I’ve found myself a dealer and now I BINGE… on Netflix shows in the middle of the night. Don’t judge. I know you do it, too. Right now I’m hooked on Dexter. There’s something about a serial killer who is really a good guy because he only murders other serial killers that I find so much more relaxing than my real life. Yeesh! Maybe that should be the start of my next therapy session…

Anyway, I was thinking the other night about the shows I was hooked on pre-Dexter and I realize that a lot of them have something in common. It seems I am drawn lately to shows where the “good guy” is actually a pretty bad guy. You know the ones: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, House of Cards… The main characters are definitely not guys I would want to be friends with. These men are pathological liars on their best days and narcissistic psychopaths on their worst.

Still, I find myself rooting for these “bad guys” and hoping they don’t get caught for their law-breaking, secret-keeping shenanigans. I wonder if it’s because I know there is darkness in me. I mean, I’m no meth-dealing philandering methodical murderer, but I’m no Doris Day either. There are parts of my life and parts of my personality that I wish weren’t there. I have quirky habits and a few vices I would love to be rid of. There are parts of me that, hard as I may try to push them down, somehow rise to the surface with a Wolverine-like fury.

Dexter calls the part of him that propels him to kill his “Dark Passenger.” He spends most episodes of the show trying to hide his Dark Passenger from those around him for his own safety as well as theirs. His monster-like behavior is pretty extreme, but when I take an honest look, I think we all have our own monsters that creep into our marriages with the potential to destroy them.

Three Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them

Monster #1: The Hulk {Uncontrolled Anger & Harsh Arguments}

We hear time and time again about couples getting into crazy fights and heated arguments “about nothing.” Once either of you gets riled up and defensive, it is very difficult to back down from that. Heart rates go up, voices are raised, and harsh things get said that are hard to take back. You may even have a chance to step away from the argument and ask yourself, “What is this even about? Was this fight worth it?”

Defeat The Hulk with: Tone and Timing

We’ve learned that tone and timing are everything. Dr. John Gottman and his team of researchers have found that a conversation will typically end on the same note it began. So, rather than coming to Tony with my voice raised and my attitude in attack-mode, I try my best to be mindful of my tone of voice (the gentler, the better) and the appropriate timing (not when he’s falling asleep or busy making dinner for all of us). It is perfectly alright to bring up something that is bothering me, but it will go much better if I bring it up in a way that gives him the benefit of the doubt and allows us both time to have a relatively uninterrupted conversation about it. Uninterrupted conversations are hard to come by with three kids aged four and under, but we try our best. Sometimes that means we’re communicating over email and that’s ok for this crazy season of our lives.

"If most of your arguments start softly, your marriage is likely to be stable and happy" - Dr. John Gottman quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Monster #2: The Two-Faced Monster {Keeping Secrets}

Most people think that keeping small secrets is pretty harmless. You may not want to disclose that your ex sent you a kind but inappropriate text. Maybe you don’t want to say exactly how much money you just spent online shopping. It’s possible that keeping those small secrets will help avoid unnecessary arguments. The problem with keeping secrets from each other is that those tiny hidden facts create huge invisible wedges between you and your spouse. Secrets divide, they cause us not to trust each other, and without trust our relationships suffer. The more secrets you keep, the less opportunity you have for real intimacy since intimacy requires vulnerability and transparency.

"The more secrets you keep, the less opportunity you have for intimacy." - Michelle Peterson quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Defeat The Two-Faced Monster with: Purposeful Transparency

Tony and I have had some of our most devastating fights after a secret one of us was keeping gets revealed. It is an awful feeling to know your spouse doesn’t trust you enough to be completely honest. So, for us, full disclosure is a must. We have access to each others email accounts, all social media, bank accounts and credit cards. Not only that, but we try to have check-ins now and then by asking each other, “Is there anything on your mind lately that you haven’t shared with me?” We try to create a safe place for each other to be honest so that we can continue to build trust in our marriage. We call it our “Safety-net Attitude” and it is something we both strive to maintain for each other.

"When your spouse makes a mistake or offends you, you have the opportunity either to be self-righteous or a safety net." quote from 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Monster #3: The Me Monster {Selfishness}

Often we get married because we’ve met someone who makes us feel great. We think they are great and we will always be great together. Then suddenly out of nowhere, they don’t like the way we fold the towels or how we might want to spend our money. It is easy and all too common to think to yourself that your partner is encroaching on the way you want to live your life. You might even feel like you are not getting “your needs met.” Having been raised by a single-mom, compromise and working together was pretty foreign to me. But, even when both husband and wife come from homes that stayed intact, it’s easy to let this Me Monster loose on your marriage. (Thank you, Brian Regan, for naming it.)

"Marriage, actually, isn't about the self at all. It is about giving all of yourself to someone else at all costs." - 3 Marriage Monsters and the Secrets for Defeating Them - #staymarried

Defeat the Me Monster with: Generosity

Marriage, actually, isn’t about the self at all. It is about giving all of yourself to someone else, at all costs. It sounds crazy, but Tony and I have found the most happiness when we are giving to each other, giving to our family, and giving to our marriage instead of trying to see what we can get out of it. When I find myself frustrated that I’m not getting what I want, it serves as a great reminder to check myself for what I’ve put into our marriage lately. Have I sacrificed? Have I done something out of the ordinary just for my husband? Have I been kind and thoughtful? Have I been encouraging? There is always more that I can give, and in the giving, there is fulfillment and happiness.

There are many more monsters than the three above that are clamoring to get out and wreak havoc on my marriage– stubbornness, defensiveness, and self-righteousness just to name a few. Tony is not unaware of these monsters, and he’s got a few of his own – like the Pre-7 a.m. Grouch. Some have said that if a person can’t handle you at your worst, then they don’t deserve your best. I disagree. I think loving someone means that we want to give our best – to our marriage and to our spouse. Let’s be honest about the darkness inside of us so that we can successfully defeat it over and over again. We can’t allow these monsters to kill our dreams to #staymarried.

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

Do you have a marriage or relationship question you think we could help with? Submit your questions right here: Ask #staymarried! We would love to help you navigate your way to a long and happy marriage!

If you’re NEW HERE, check out our About Page. You might also enjoy our #staymarried Podcast! You can find us on the socials: InstagramPinterestTwitter, and Facebook. I’d love to connect on any of your favorite platforms.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle

If You Really Want To Be Heard…

If you want to be heard, lower your voice. - Why yelling doesn't work. - a #staymarried blogHappily married couples fight. Every couple is bound to have disagreements, tension, and arguments. Once you accept that it’s normal and not an indication that your marriage is failing, you can begin to spend your energy on what makes a fight good, healthy, and productive instead of harmful and divisive.

We have heard over and over again that good communication is essential for a good marriage. The goal of good communication is both to understand and to be understood. Fighting, really, is just another form of communication. One of the fastest ways to go from communicating in a fight to making enemies of each other is to raise your voice and yell.

Why Yelling Doesn’t Work

Yelling at your partner, though your voice might be significantly louder, does not actually help them listen to you. In fact, it does the opposite. When you yell, the brain of the person you are yelling at senses danger and begins to spend its energy assessing how to deal with the perceived threat. The well-known fight-or-flight response system kicks in which can cause your spouse to become defensive and yell back (fight mode) or withdraw and stonewall (flight mode). In either case, they certainly aren’t listening to you. Whatever you have said, however important it may be to you, however passionately you feel, is now completely lost on them. They see red, they hear loud sirens, they react. They do not see the person they love reaching out to be understood.

The very first fight that Tony and I ever had involved a lot of yelling. As many times as I’ve relived that fight, I cannot remember what we were yelling about. I remember where we were, I remember how I felt, I remember how he looked, but I cannot remember a single word from that volatile fight. I do, however, remember the conversation we had once we’d calmed down after the fight was over. We agreed that yelling at each other was awful and neither of us wanted to yell or be yelled at. We made it a rule and ten years later, with a handful of exceptions, we’ve done a decent job of sticking to it.

Can We Have a Better Fight?

Along with having a “No Yelling” rule, and others like it, we have to step back and ask ourselves what we really want out of a fight. I might be fighting because I think I am right about something and need him to see it my way. He might be fighting because he feels disrespected by something hurtful I’ve said. We might be fighting because one of us didn’t live up to the other’s expectations. One study out of Baylor University claims that what we are really after when we fight is power and control. If I’m honest with myself, I think that’s probably true of me. Still, instead of yelling to try to get my point across and screaming to try to control my husband, I want to be the kind of wife who communicates in a way that makes him want to listen to me. How can I do that?

A great place to start is to ask myself if I really want to listen to him? If I am only trying to be heard, and not interested in his perspective, that is going to come across in my tone and body language. A good fight, even a good conversation, involves both people participating. I need to make sure I am actually making room for him to share and be heard without interrupting and cutting him off. That is so hard for me when I’m frustrated, but it’s important if I want to come out of the fight having grown closer to him instead of further apart.

Once I’ve decided to be receptive to his perspective, I need to be careful with how I share mine. Am I using words that accuse and threaten? Or, am I using words that give him the benefit of the doubt and take responsibility myself?

The Magic Ratio

Tony and I aren’t really volatile people. We are both generally calm, he more than I, so this works for us. But, if you and/or your spouse are the passionate type, you may find this nearly impossible. Not to worry, you can still have good fights and a healthy marriage. The key for you is to outweigh your positive vs. negative interactions with each other. In his research, Dr. John Gottman has found a “magic ratio” for those positive and negative interactions, whether you are a volatile couple or relatively calm communicators. The ratio is 5:1, positive versus negative. That includes touching, kissing, encouraging words, helping each other, or any number of things. As long as you have five times as many positive interactions with your spouse as you do loud crazy fights, your marriage is likely to be stable over time.

If you want to be heard, lower your voice. - Why yelling doesn't work. - a #staymarried blog

If you really want to be heard, if you are truly hoping to be understood, keep the volume low in your fights. But, know that even if you raise your voice and say hurtful things, you can still recover by spending extra energy showing your spouse that respect, love, and affection that will help you #staymarried.

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You are reading If You Really Want To Be Heard…, a #staymarried blog. If you liked this post, you may also like to read “We Need to Talk” – 4 Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions or No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can also feel free to pin the image above if you like.

New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

 

 

“We need to talk.” Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

Tony and I are quickly on our way to being a family of five with three kids under four years old. That last sentence might produce a mild heart attack for most people, but I have decided to focus all of my stress on just one factor instead of the many ways things are about to change… What are we going to drive?

Right now, our family car is our beloved Subaru Outback. It’s paid off – YIPPEE! – so we’ll keep it, but we need to trade in Tony’s Ford Bronco that we’ve had since before we got married for a larger, family-friendlier vehicle in which we can fit three car seats plus a massive stroller and all of the usual gear that goes along with toting kids. We are asking ourselves the same question many modern American families have asked themselves: Shall we, or shall we not, succumb to the minivan?

Tony says, “We shall not!”

I’m saying, “We shall!”

We haven’t made a move yet, so right now, we are at a bit of an impasse. The truth is, both of us are a lot closer to a middle than we are at complete odds. But still, it feels tense not to have made a decision and to be just a couple of weeks away from Baby #3’s arrival.

What do you do when you can’t make a decision?

I know we aren’t the first couple to not see eye-to-eye on what feels like such a big decision. A friend of mine recently emailed me asking if we had any resources for couples who couldn’t agree on when to start a family. The decision to have, or not to have, or when to have children is, by comparison, a much bigger decision than my first-world-problem. I don’t really have an answer for her. I have other friends who are stuck in gridlocked limbo over whether to have the husband’s elderly mother come and live with them or to take on the expense of moving her into an assisted living facility. Again, seems like a pretty big decision to disagree about. This is all grown-up stuff… the stuff I can’t believe we have to decide on our own… the stuff I feel too immature and ill-equipped to deal with. But, feeling like a kid doesn’t let me off the hook. Conversations must be had, decisions must be made, gridlock must be faced.

As I think about some of these big decisions, it feels like whoever is holding the “no” or “not yet” card seems to have the power. This can make the person holding the “yes” or “let’s do this” card feel disregarded and overlooked. Those feelings alone can make coming to agreement even more difficult than the actual issue. The thing about not coming to agreement on some of these bigger life issues is that it often means one person or the other has deeper dreams or longings that they feel are not being acknowledged. These are not “don’t fight over the butter” issues. They are deeply rooted heart issues and they need to be unearthed and paid attention to, not ignored and dismissed.

Dr. John Gottman says, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work…

“The very nature of gridlock means that your dream and your spouse’s appear to be in opposition, so you’ve both become deeply entrenched in your positions and fear accepting each other’s influence and yielding.”

Is that where you are? Are you afraid to accept your partner’s influence? Do you think it will mean giving up entirely on something that is important to you, giving in when you really don’t want to? Are you digging in your heels because you are afraid that letting them have “their way” will cost you something greater than you are willing to pay? I get it. If you’re not ready to have kids yet, then you’re just not ready. If you don’t want your mother-in-law to come and live with you, compromising on that can make it so that you never want to spend time in your own home. You are holding on to your position for a reason, and it’s probably not a petty one.

In marriage, it is never 'having my way.' It is rather discovering 'our' way. - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsWhat if it’s not about my way OR your way. What if there is a better way? Gary Chapman says, “In marriage it is never ‘having my way.’ It is rather discovering ‘our’ way.” Making this discovery won’t necessarily come easily. We all tend to assume that our ideas are the best ideas. What we fail to recognize is that our spouse has the same opinion of their ideas. Since this is true, getting through the impasse will require at least one of you to try to see the issue from your spouse’s perspective.

We need to talk. Or, do we?

Typically when something is on my mind, I’ll approach Tony and say, “We need to talk.” Now, I am aware that those words do not elicit positive and excited feelings in him. Even though he loves me and doesn’t hate talking things through with me, there is something about that phrase that can make his shoulders tense and create an automatic defensiveness. It has the same effect when he says, “we need to talk,” to me. I automatically assume I’m in trouble and I’m about to hear about it. I know it’s not the best way to start a conversation, but I’ve never known of another way to communicate that something is important to me and I need some undivided attention about it. Until now…

In thinking about my own minivan impasse, and not wanting to have a fight with Tony about it, I read something I thought was so simple, but so helpful, I was embarrassed I’d never thought of it before. Instead of approaching him and saying, “We need to talk,” Gary Chapman recommends a slightly different approach: “I’d like a chance to listen to you.” Chapman says that setting a time for listening is based on the concept of showing genuine respect for the other individual, giving them full freedom to think their own thoughts, have their own opinions, and have their own reasons for these opinions. It is expressing understanding and affirming that their ideas make sense. It takes away the adversarial atmosphere in resolving conflicts and creates an atmosphere of friendship.

Beginning with the desire to listen to Tony sets my own heart on a course of trying to understand him. In this case, I’d say, “Tony, I’d like a chance to listen to you. It seems like you really don’t want a minivan, and I’d really like to hear your ideas and understand more about it.”

I can only imagine how much better that conversation can go than the one that starts with, “We need to talk.” Then, what if I really did listen to him? We’ve already discovered how much more valued people feel when their loved one takes the time to listen and helping Tony feel valued is always my goal. We are partners, even when we disagree, and I don’t want to be his adversary. Also, I imagine that if I really engage in listening to him and taking in his perspective, how much more inclined he’ll be to want to listen to my opinions, too. I don’t think we’ll come to complete agreement in one conversation, but I am also learning that complete agreement isn’t necessarily the goal.

They work it out as a team - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsAbout getting through these tough problems, Dr. John Gottman says, “The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue…” Ignoring an issue or choosing apathy when you cannot agree will not bring you and your partner closer together. Instead, it’s important to understand that the root of these impossible decisions could be a dream or longing that your spouse feels is being overlooked. Gottman also says that, “In a happy marriage, neither spouse insists or attempts to manipulate the other into giving up their dream. They work it out as a team. They fully take into account each other’s wishes and desires.” Are you willing to do that? If so, we’ve made a short list of things to think about when you are facing these big disagreements.

Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

1. Set a time to listen

Practice asking for a time to listen instead of saying, “We need to talk.” Then, really listen. Ask clarifying questions. Stop yourself from condescending remarks that only reveal that you believe your opinion is truly “better” than theirs.

2. Decide where you can be flexible

Again, because you both believe your perspective to be valid, decide what areas of the big decision you can be flexible with. Maybe it’s with the timing. Do you need to agree right now? Maybe you can be flexible in some other area. Be open with that.

3. Choose understanding over deciding

Often these decisions are so heavy that the solution is not going to come from just one conversation. Make understanding and honoring each other your goal. If the decision feels pressing, set a time to come together after you both have had some time to think about the other’s perspective to try to make a decision together.

4. Show gratitude

Whatever decision you come to, or if you don’t come to one at all, it is vital that both of you feel heard and acknowledged. Thank your spouse for entering into the gridlocked situation with you, for pushing through the tension, and for showing love and respect by acknowledging your differences in opinion.

I really have no idea what Tony and I will be driving when this new little one arrives. I can’t stand this feeling of being in limbo and not having a plan. Still, I love my husband and I know he is reasonable and wants nothing more than to take care of his family. I can trust that whatever we do, we will do it as a team. When you are making your own impossible decisions, remember to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, to listen to where they may be coming from, practice being flexible and #staymarried.

 

P.S. I don’t know why this video hasn’t just shut the whole discussion down…

 

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting. New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

A Bad Fight or a Good Fight?

A Good Fight - a #staymarried blog featuring the difference between a good fight and a bad fight by Drs. Les and Leslie ParrottA friend and I were having coffee, catching up with each other, and talking about how much our kids seem to be paying attention and noticing. I told her about some of the random things my not-quite-two-year-old has been saying lately, like, “Oh my goodness!” and, “That’s okay.” We laughed about the silly things her elementary aged kids have gotten into and the seemingly serious conversations they appear to be having with each other. Then she told me about something a bit more heartbreaking that her seven year old son said to her after she and her husband had been fighting in their bedroom one night.

“Mom, when you and dad are arguing, why don’t you just stop? Just stop doing it.” She was so sad that her son had been so affected by what she thought had occurred behind closed doors that she started to tear up. She put her hand on his shoulder and then he said, “Or, maybe instead of fighting, you could just text each other.”

I felt for my friend. She’s navigating territory that I have yet to enter into – children old enough to understand and communicate how their parents fighting is affecting them. His words were sweet to his momma, and wise, and pretty funny. Who knows, he could be the next great marriage therapist! It got me to thinking about my own fights with Tony and I wondered, why don’t we just stop?

Maybe because if we stop, our spouse will feel like they’ve won. Or because we just have to get our point across and make sure we are being heard. Or because we are hurt and they need to hurt with us. Maybe one of us won’t overlook an offense. Maybe the other won’t admit a mistake. Maybe we both refuse to let go of our need to be right.

I think what this sweet boy was trying to say to his mom is that he hears their fighting and it makes him feel insecure. He wants to know that everything is ok, that they love each other, and that their home is safe and full of peace. He asks why they don’t just stop because, in his mind, the lack of conflict – yelling, arguing, fighting – means that there aren’t any problems. What he doesn’t understand now, but he may someday, is that all couples fight and it is not a bad thing.

The Good Fight Book, photo by Brandon Hill #staymarriedDrs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer share that the difference between a marriage that grows happier and one that grows more miserable is not whether they fight, but how they fight. They say:

All fights are not created equal. A good fight, in contrast to a bad fight, is helpful, not hurtful. It is positive, not negative. A good fight stays clean, but a bad fight gets dirty. According to researchers at the University of Utah, 93% of couples who fight dirty will be divorced within ten years.

Do you feel like the fights you are having with your partner are good fights or bad fights? Do you think they are mostly good, with a little bad sprinkled in? Are they mostly bad? You might think these questions are just a matter of opinion; the fight is good if we say it is. However, research shows us that we can figure out exactly what makes a good fight or a bad fight. Check out this info we found in The Good Fight…

A Good Fight - a #staymarried blog featuring the difference between a good fight and a bad fight by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

It’s a daunting list. Some of these need a lot more explanation, and Les and Leslie offer great insight in their book. But, they also say that if you boil the essence of a bad fight down to a single ingredient, it would have to be pride. Look back at the Bad Fight column of the chart. Do you see it? I do, and I see now more than ever that I am guilty of it.

Most of the fights Tony and I have start when I feel like I haven’t gotten my way… pride. They escalate when I hear him say something that reveals my own selfishness… pride. I move into my classic silent-treatment mode when I see that I might be wrong, but I’m not yet willing to give in… pride.

Look again at the chart. See that last line? The benefit of a good fight is growth and intimacy. Holy crap if they didn’t just nail the very thing I want most in my marriage! I want Tony and I to grow together. I want us to experience real and vulnerable intimacy. My pride does absolutely nothing to help us get there, but laying down my selfishness might. Evaluating where I am coming from in a fight could be exactly what I need to go from escalating the tension we are having to easing that tension.

Fighting is as intrinsic to marriage as sex... quote on #staymarried blog

In marriage, we’re not going to stop fighting. We shouldn’t even think that the absence of fighting is the goal. What we should do is figure out how to get better at it. As for me, I’m going to start with one little habit that I hope will make a difference. I’m going to pause. Before I enter into the fight, I’m going to check myself for that little pride monster. I’m going to look at this chart and evaluate my motives. I’m going to take a deep breath, think about taking responsibility instead of blaming, and then decide how to bring up what’s bothering me. I’m going to try to have more good fights and less bad ones so that Tony and I can grow together and #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like Show Some Respect and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesMost married people have figured out that being married is not being in a relationship that is constantly fulfilling, exciting, romantic, and fun. A lot of married life is offending each other, frustrating each other, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. I shared several months ago that I’m not so good at apologizing. It turns out, I still have a lot to learn about the art of forgiveness also. For instance, here is a real text conversation between my husband and I…

Tony: I’ll be working late tonight.

Me: You’re not serious. I have that party I’m co-hosting tonight. I need to be there no later than 6pm.

Tony: Remembering now. No problem. I’ll be home by five.

Tony: Sorry.

Tony: I probably should have checked with you instead of informing you.

Me: … deflating…

That text interaction took a total of 2 minutes, but his initial text to me that he’d be working late sent my mind on overload.

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might actually be joking since he knows I have plans tonight. If he’s not joking… how could he just now be telling me? He took the car today. We never talked about it. Now I’ll be stranded at home with the kids and no car? Why didn’t he talk with me about this sooner? I know his job is important. I hate feeling so petty.

… and then I received his response that he’d be home on time.

I wonder if other people get as worked up in such a short time as I can? The problem, if it even was a problem, was fixed immediately. Still, my back and my shoulders had become tense with frustration, I felt unimportant and mad that he hadn’t thought about me. I was so unnerved that there was a part of me that wanted to make it a bigger deal than it really was. He, I’m sure, was over it as soon as it happened. My text letting him know I was “deflating” was my way of telling him that I was not over it, but I was on my way there. I want to be a good forgiver. This case should have been open and shut, but I needed a few more minutes than that. What is that about?

What makes it even harder for me to move beyond these teeny tiny little offenses more quickly is that Tony seems to be really good at it. If I had done the same thing to him, forgotten about something he needed to do, he would have forgiven me instantly. Why does he have to be so good at that? It just highlights how bad I am at it. He is either truly moving on, or he’s mad and he’s just not telling me. He always seems to be first to extend the olive branch.

The expression “to extend an olive branch” means to make an offer of peace or reconciliation. According to WiseGeek, this phrase has Biblical origins, coming from the section of the Old Testament that deals with the flood; the sign that the flood is over is an olive branch brought back to the ark by a dove. Olive trees take years to mature, and war is typically very hard on olives because people cannot take the time to nurture them and plant new trees. Therefore, the offer of an olive branch would suggest that someone is tired of war.

Tony is always tired of war. Sometimes his olive branch looks like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, sometimes a hug and kiss, sometimes just a reach for my hand. He is a good forgiver, and I am trying to learn to be one, too.

What does it mean to be a good forgiver?

Forgiveness at its core is to cancel a debt. The reason we struggle is that we all have this sense when we’ve been offended that we are owed something by the offender. Maybe we are owed an apology. Maybe we are owed something more tangible like a new pair of shoes since he accidentally threw away the pair you just bought, box and all, as he was straightening up the house. (Yes, this really happened.) When we forgive someone, we are telling them and ourselves that they no longer owe us anything at all. The debt is cancelled.

This doesn’t seem like the right thing to do because, well, if we are owed something, shouldn’t we be paid? Wouldn’t that be fair?

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesThe trouble is that when we are hurt or offended, it’s not likely that any sort of payment or apology will really cover the debt we feel we are owed emotionally. The level of frustration can feel so great on the inside that even if we are “compensated,” we still have to choose to forgive before we are relieved of it. When we forgive, we take the responsibility away from someone else to fix how we feel.

A stubborn forgiver.

The reality for me is that I didn’t have any kind of grasp on forgiveness until I became a Christian and decided to find out what the Bible had to say about it. I was raised by a stubborn grudge-holder who taught me things like, “Never let a person see you cry when they’ve hurt you. If you do, they win.” I can appreciate, as a single mom, that she had to figure out some self-preservation methods. Holding grudges kept hurtful people out of her life and, consequently, out of ours. Still, I saw over time how isolating that mentality was. She never forgave my father, so I never knew him. If somebody crossed her even once, it seemed like there was no chance for reconciliation. I didn’t always think that was such a bad thing. That is, until I was confronted with my own stubbornness and unforgiveness.

Deciding to put my faith in Jesus meant, first and foremost, that I was a forgiven person. Forgiven for things I knew I needed to be forgiven for and even for things I was unaware of. Forgiven completely- no debt, no interest payments. If you’ve ever been forgiven for anything big – let off the hook for a car accident that was your fault, not fired even though you were caught stealing money, forgiven by your best friend for sleeping with her boyfriend – then you might have a small sense of the relief I felt. I was keenly aware that I was not owed forgiveness, and the truth that I received it anyway was overwhelming. It still is. However, the truth that followed was not such a relief.

As I grew in my faith, it was explained to me that as a forgiven person, it was now my responsibility to forgive others. Sounds like a simple concept, but I had a really hard time trying to live that out. I had grown accustomed to living in my stubbornness. I began to believe that it was wise and protective of me to remember the times I’d been hurt and offended and not to allow those things to happen again. I had a serious misunderstanding of forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is cancelling a debt. Forgiveness is not, however, putting yourself back in a situation to be harmed in the same way. Forgiveness does not mean condoning someone else’s awful behavior. It does not mean that the way that they’ve hurt you is “ok.” If your wife is unfaithful to you, and you choose to forgive her, it does not mean that you then give her your blessing to continue in an affair. You forgive what she has done and now you have work to do to move toward healing and restoring the trust that has been broken in your relationship.

In my case, with the text-message exchange, what did I even need to forgive? That Tony forgot I had someplace to be? That he was making plans and informing me so late in the game? Simple, petty things. Things that are easy to forgive. I did forgive him, it wasn’t that hard. But we hurt, offend, and overlook each other all the time. Forgiveness is not a one time occurrence. If we want to be happily and healthily married, forgiveness needs to be a routine behavior of ours. How does this happen? I have a few suggestions:

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couples

If a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers, as Ruth Bell Graham so famously said, then it’s something we can all put effort into getting better at. Practice forgiving the little things, brace yourself to forgive the bigger things, extend many olive branches, and #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like I Hate Apologizing and No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
Thanks for stopping by!
~Michelle

No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting

No Yelling - And Other Rules for Fighting FairWelp, we had a fight on Sunday. We fought in the car after church, in front of the girls, about disciplining our children. It didn’t last long, mainly because he had to get out of the car to go back to church to volunteer. Oh, and please ask me how much I love telling you that we fight with each other AND we volunteer at church in the SAME DAY! I don’t love it, but it’s the reality of our marriage, and I’ll make a safe bet you’ve had fights at some pretty inopportune times yourselves.

I will never forget my first fight with Tony. Ok, that’s not true. I don’t remember it at all. I don’t remember how it started or what we fought about, and that is probably true of 90% of the fights we’ve had since then. What I do remember is how I felt.

We’d only been dating a few months and, of course, I was madly in love. As we argued and yelled at each other in his truck on our way to spend time with some friends, I remember feeling so shocked and hurt that we were actually fighting. I didn’t hear a word he said. I’m sure he wasn’t hearing me. I kept thinking, “Is this how he fought in his last relationship? I hate this!”

Tony had dated his previous girlfriend for ten years. Yes, you read that correctly. They got together when they were just 16 years old and stayed together until they were 26. Most people, including their families, even including myself, thought they would get married. In ten years of being with someone, I was sure they had developed their routines, their own expectations of one another, and their very own way of fighting. I thought about that as we unleashed on each other that night. I thought also about my own 3 year off-again, on-again relationship pre-Tony and the habits of fighting I’d been in with my own ex-boyfriend.

I didn’t want to fight with Tony. Even more, I was sure I didn’t want to fight like this. I didn’t want us to treat each other the way we had treated our exes. I wanted something new, something healthy with this man I was falling in love with. We calmed down eventually and held each other and agreed that fighting with each other was awful. However insightful, I didn’t want to experience that again. We kissed and agreed on just one thing: No yelling.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

That was it. That was how it started. We talked that night about how yelling was so disrespectful. We talked about how neither of us liked being yelled at. We agreed that yelling was simply unkind, and furthermore, unproductive. We agreed that if we could avoid it, avoid yelling at each other, we could have better fights. I loved that even early on, we knew that fighting was inevitable. Neither of us were trying to avoid getting into disagreements, but we were both so wounded by the fight we’d just had and overtaken by our love for one another, that we didn’t want to have that same experience again.

Now, based on our “No Yelling” rule, you might think we fight like communication experts or therapists. Not true. It took quite some time for us to navigate our differences of opinion and frustrations. The “No Yelling” rule led to some pretty major dysfunctions in the beginning. I’ve mentioned before that I can tend to be the stonewalling silent-type while Tony wants to really get everything out on the table and come to a solution together. Taking away my option to freak out on him made me want to withhold altogether. It was like a pendulum swing from airing it all out to airing nothing at all. Not healthy.

Tony once described us like deflating balloons. I was a balloon that, once we’d talked about the problem and apologized to one another, needed to deflate slowly and process. He was a balloon that, once the problem had been addressed, had been popped and all of the hot air was gone. He was fully deflated and ready to move on.

I’d say we are still this way: the slow deflater vs. the popped and resolved. Still, as a couple who wants so much to stay married, we learn each other along the way and start to say out loud what we might otherwise hold back out of pride. So, our one rule has led to many other underlying rules for fair fighting. For instance: no eye-rolling, no bringing up past frustrations, no low-blows, and no threatening divorce.

We know that arguing in marriage is inevitable, but we believe that the fewer stinging darts we aim at one another, the better off we’ll be.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

I love these. They seem pretty straight-forward, and I think we could all agree that implementing them would make our fights more peaceful. But, how? What if the habit and cycle of fighting you and your spouse are in includes yelling and interrupting? What if you are defensive by nature and not just with your husband or wife? Let’s try some homework.

Fair Fighting Homework

Set a “Fight Rules Date Night” for yourselves on the calendar.

Whether you do this exercise at home or on a night out, take some time when you’re both in a good mood to come up with your own list of rules.

Write out your list together.

Maybe it will include the things above. Maybe you already know your own triggers and pet peeves. For instance, you might add “No checking your phone during a fight.” It’s important that you both are aware of and on the same page about the rules, otherwise one of you is the rule-keeper while the other is the unintentional rule-breaker. This will cause even more tension.

Be realistic.

Once you’ve honed in on your list, the next step is to acknowledge that these things are probably going to bring some change to your usual ways and change is not always easy. Ask for patience with one another, since you’ll likely break a few of these rules the first few times you fight.

Make up a “Safe Word”.

Choose a neutral word or phrase that either of you can use at any time if you feel like your fight is escalating and that you might, or your spouse is, breaking the fight rules. Choose something goofy like “Dumbledore” or “Downward Facing Dog.” A good safe word should work as a diffuser and repair attempt. It’s even better if it makes you laugh. Regardless of what you come up with, the purpose is to be a signal that you need to take a break to calm down before re-engaging in the issue you are fighting about.

Fighting and arguing are perfectly healthy and natural parts of marriage – even happy marriages. Still, if we can remember that we are on the same team with our spouse, if we can remember that we want to stay married, I think talking with each other and agreeing on our own rules for fighting fair is a worthy discussion. So, take off your boxing gloves, listen to one another, lower your voice, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Soften Your Startup

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couplesIt’s been said that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words per day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7,000. I can definitely attest to this in my own marriage with Tony. Although I’ve often wondered if he might actually be closer to the 3,000 words per day mark which only makes my normal 20,000 seem really extreme. In any case, I talk more than he does. I tend to be more descriptive in my accounts of the day. More of my energy goes toward calendar planning and budget questions than his does. Like many married women, I tend to be responsible for the majority of the communication in our family. It turns out, that also means I tend to be responsible for bringing up tough stuff that has the potential for turning into an all-out fight.

According to Dr. John Gottman’s research in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I’m right on par with wives everywhere. He says:

If there’s one similarity between happy and unhappy marriages, it’s that in both circumstances the wife is far more likely than the husband to bring up a touchy issue and to push to resolve it. But there’s a dramatic difference in how the wife brings it up (159).

Now, this is the same Dr. Gottman that can predict with 96% accuracy whether or not a couple will divorce within watching the first three minutes of a conflict discussion. His research in the famed “Love Lab” shows that the way an issue is brought up in the first place will have a heavy effect on how it ends. Since wives are the ones more often bringing up these difficult issues, it means that the ownership on the direction of a discussion – whether it becomes something productive or a door-slamming fight – lays heavily on us.

The difference, Gottman says, between the way a wife brings up a discussion in a happy or unhappy marriage is in the “startup”: the manner in which that discussion is brought up in the first place. If the startup is harsh, there is a greater likelihood that her spouse will be defensive and uncooperative. If the startup is softer, there is a greater likelihood that she will be received and heard and that her influence will be accepted by her husband. Wondering what the differences are? Let’s see if we can break it down…

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couples

Along with the above, I’ve been trying to practice a few other things. For instance, if I’m upset about something and it will be a while until I see Tony, rather than calling or texting him immediately with what’s bothering me, I try to think about what our last few interactions have been like. If they haven’t been mostly positive, I’ll wait. I’ll even shoot him an “I miss you” text, just to bring up my positive to negative ratio.

I also try to make sure my first interaction with him after I haven’t seen him for a while is positive and not negative, even if something is really on my mind. I never want him to walk in the door to a complaining wife. I wouldn’t want him to greet me with something he’s irritated about either. Also, when it comes to text, emotions can be easily misconstrued, so I try really hard to use “benefit of the doubt” language, like “hey, I’m not sure if you remember, but I have an appointment tonight so I really need you to be home on time from work” instead of “Don’t forget like you did last time! I don’t want to be late today!”

As women, we have immense influence over resolving conflicts in our home, if only we truly believed it and used it for our family’s benefit. The Bible says, “A wise woman makes her home what it should be, but the home of a foolish woman is destroyed by her own actions.” Let us be wise, soften our startup, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

 

Same Team

Before we were dating, Tony and I used to meet with some friends at a neighborhood bar called Piper’s Creek. It was the dimly lit sort of pub with a few pool tables, some dart boards, open seating, one bartender, and no waitresses. The outer walls were lined with bookshelves and all sorts of old board games and card games. If it weren’t on the other side of town from where we live now, it would definitely still be on our list of regular spots.

Chess

Back then, though we weren’t dating, we were definitely liking each other. You know, liking in the kind of way that you only say and do interesting things around each other. We sat at one of the open tables and Tony asked if I’d like to play chess. “Sure!” I said enthusiastically, “I’d love to!” Come on, who wouldn’t want to play chess with someone they had a crush on. It’s a game that takes a very long time and only involves two players. Yep, I’d definitely like to play chess with you, handsome Tony Peterson. Thank you for asking. He pulled out the board and started to set up the pieces. “Have you played before?”

“It’s been a very long time.” I watched him set up his pieces and I set mine up in the exact same way. He made his first move, and I thought it was a good one, so I made the exact same move. He made a few more moves, and each time I mirrored exactly what he did.
“You don’t know how to play, do you?”

“Well, I know the horse guy can take a left. I know the pointy guy can go diagonal. Yep, that’s about all I know about chess”. We laughed and he started to teach me, but to this day I have no idea how to play chess, nor do I have any real desire to learn. Tony and I still love playing games together. But, if you’re at a table playing a game with us, you’ll quickly notice that we approach games very differently. I’m the type to play my hand, figure out my strategy at the start of the game, and move along at a relatively slow pace. Tony, on the other hand, always plays his opponents. He’s the card counting, facial expression reading, block your next move just because he can type of player. I play for fun, he plays to win (which he claims is more fun).

As we’ve gotten to know each other better over the years, it’s also clear that we approach just about everything in life differently, not just games. We especially approach each other differently when we’re in a conflict. He’d like to get it out on the table all at once. I’d like to wait until my thoughts are fully formed, as reasonable as possible, and be prepared for any contrary arguments before I broach an issue. Of course, in my mind, this makes me extremely considerate not to lash out at my husband. But, for Tony on the receiving end, this looks like I have shut him out and am stonewalling and keeping secrets. Perception is a tricky thing. He is not wrong, but then again, neither am I. The problem is, when I’m mad, I start thinking about our marriage as if it’s a game of chess. I’m waiting for him to make the right move.

In chess, you’ve got one opponent against another. You’ve each got your own king, the prize you’re protecting against your adversary. You’ve got your strategy, you’re attempting to decipher the strategy being played against you. In chess, you only make your move when you’re absolutely ready and you never make a move out of turn. Sometimes I want to play my frustrations out like a game of chess. I want to hold my anger and resentment close and watch and see if he will figure out what he did wrong. When I’m hurt, I don’t want to work with him on some sort of solution. I want, instead, to protect myself from him. I start thinking of him as an adversary and I start thinking more independently, only pouring myself a cup of coffee in the morning, instead of pouring for both of us. And even as I am playing all of this out in my mind, a conflicting phrase occurs to me over and over again… “Same team… Same team.”

Same Team

I remember a friend of ours describing his fights with his wife to us years ago. He said that when it’s really heated, they have to remind each other, and themselves, that they are on the same team. He said it was especially crucial once they had kids. I never forgot that verbiage and the way he described the feeling that your spouse is your enemy when the reality is that they are your teammate. In a game where you’re on the same team, you need to work together so that your team wins. If you play against your own team, you lose!

Still, it’s really hard in my stubborn and independent nature to want to work together when I’m upset. Tony and I know we approach our conflicts differently, so we’ve developed some language and key phrases to help us work through the muck. For instance, when I have been too quiet for too long, he might say to me, “I’m giving you space. But, I’d like to talk. How are you feeling?” I am almost never ready to talk when he asks, so I might say, “I’m working it out. I’m not sure what to say, but I am definitely bothered.” For us, that’s at least a start. Sometimes I’ll ask for more time, or to get the attention off of myself, I’ll ask in return how he’s feeling. I realize this can seem very formal, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. It does feel like drudgery, like tromping through thick mud, but as soon as we decide to talk, as soon as we decide we want to really hear from each other, we move back to being on the same team and out of the place of being opponents on the opposite side of a chess board.

Seek First To Understand

In Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about some of this. His Habit 5 is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey writes that most of us have no real training or practice in listening. We spend most of our time learning to communicate our own thoughts, and give very little attention to the skills of understanding those around us. He says that, in most cases, we listen with the intent to reply instead of the intent to understand. There is a big difference here.

In the case of our marriages, this failure to really listen to each other, to really try to understand each other, can often put us at odds with one another. If we do what comes naturally, if we are seeking first to be understood, we are playing the game as opponents. We need to, instead, come up with ways to listen, to seek to understand, so that we can have a Same Team Mindset.

 If YOU win, your TEAM loses.

So, how about you? Are you playing out your arguments as opponents, or are you attempting to be on the same team? Are you seeking first to be understood, or are you seeking to understand? Are you defending and protecting yourself, or are you defending and protecting your teammate and your marriage? This is something I struggle with all the time. Maybe it’s a survivalist mindset. I mentioned before about my struggle with apologizing, and I’m sure it’s because I hate being wrong. But in those moments, I have to make the choice to play as a teammate, suck it up, and apologize.

Once you get married, your role in the story of your life shifts entirely from being the star player to being a member of a team. If you continue to try to “win” – being right in your arguments, getting your way with the social calendar, making independent decisions about spending money – you will cause your team as a whole to lose. Instead, look your teammate in the eye the next time you go head-to-head and remind each other that you are on the SAME TEAM so you can #staymarried!

*Click here for more on “Repair Attempts”

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Repair Attempts

Tony and I are leading a … wait for it… #staymarried group right now. We are meeting weekly with 10 other couples and working through John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you’ve not heard of Dr. Gottman, you might want to look him up and start paying attention to what he says. He is the foremost researcher on marriage, with decades of experience. He is most renowned for being able to watch an interaction between a husband and wife and within five minutes predict with 96% accuracy whether or not that couple will eventually get a divorce.

Tony and I agree that the overarching idea he shares about how to actually make a marriage work simply has to do with manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? Dr. Gottman is not exactly an advocate for a couple not to fight, but he does spend quite a bit of attention on how they fight. One thing he’s noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive, what he calls, repair attempts.

This topic came up in just the second week of our group – the week we met with just the wives. So we asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Some of the responses we got include:

– Even if he’s grumpy, he’ll say, “I love you.” What am I going to do? I have to say it back. Even if I’m still mad, it definitely diffuses things.

– He hugs me. I usually resist at first, but ultimately it softens me up and we both calm down.

– We hold hands. We heard about this somewhere… that you can’t stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with. We’ve tried it, which is hard when you’re mad, but it makes a big difference.

– He farts. No matter how mad I am, I turn into a fourteen year old boy when he farts. I can’t stop laughing.

You have never heard a room full of women laugh louder and longer than when one wife shared this last one. I, also, can’t stop laughing when Tony farts. I don’t think he’s ever specifically tried that repair attempt with me, but I’m sure it would work.

Foundationally, a repair attempt is any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Gottman says that even if someone says, “Uggh, I need a break,” it can come across as stonewalling, but it is actually that person’s repair attempt to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight.

What he’s noticed with couples whose relationships eventually dissolve is that either they aren’t willing to make repair attempts, or if one spouse makes the attempt, the other spouse rejects it. For instance, if Farting Husband was rejected by his wife as being rude or gross instead of received by her with laughter – that would be a failed repair attempt. Or if the wife reaches for her husband’s hand but he rejects her and refuses to hold hers back, it is a failed attempt.

Can you think of your own common repair attempts? As I think of ours, I’m embarrassed to admit I have rejected Tony’s repair attempts a time or two. I’ve been frustrated or hurt and not willing to believe or remember that he and I are on the same team. I remember him trying to crack a little joke and responding to him with, “Don’t try to change the subject!” Those fights took a lot longer than necessary to de-escalate. Reading through this book and thinking about our own history of fights and arguments, I can see Dr. Gottman’s point. The way a couple ends a fight is a telling indicator of the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage.

There is a long list of repair attempts found in Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. The author admits these can feel forced at first, but as you and your spouse begin to learn some “damage control language,” you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. These are just some of the rehearsed repair attempts he mentions.

15 Possible Repair Attempts

1. “Please say that more gently.”
2. “That felt like an insult.”
3. Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.
4. “Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”
5. “Can you kiss me?”
6. “Can we take a break?”
7. “Let me try again.”
8. “How can I make things better?”
9. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
10. “I agree with part of what you are saying.”
11. Reach your hand out gently to touch theirs.
12. “One thing I admire about you is…”
13. “We are getting off track.”
14. “That’s a good point.”
15. “I love you.”

So, how about you? Since some kind of fighting is inevitable, what do your repair attempts look like? Are you willing to receive your partner’s repair attempt? Are you likely to reject it? Take some time over the next couple of days to talk about these with your spouse. We’d love to hear about your own unique versions of repair attempts in the Comments section below. You never know, another couple might read your repair attempts and they could be just the thing to help them de-escalate their own fights and #staymarried.

 

 

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by! ~ Michelle