Happily 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 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.
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.
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