Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
In this article I will discuss how couples could go about handling their differences so that an argument carries a lot less of the sting and resentment than it otherwise does.
How to handle marital conflict:
1. Negotiate rules of arguing behavior. This negotiation will probably not take place until after the first argument. Then, when feelings are sore and the couple is feeling anxious and vulnerable about the disagreement, people are more open to collaborating on how to handle future conflicts.
2. It is really important that conflict not occur when alcohol is in the picture. Many people experience an increase in irritability and impulsiveness when under the influence. It is really best to avoid conflict during these times and wait until alcohol has worn off, usually, the next morning. In fact, minimizing the amount of drinking never hurts a relationship.
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3. Humor is a good way to reduce the injury suffered in a conflict. Many couples have described to me their ability to suddenly see the absurdity of the situation and start laughing. Good. That is an excellent way to minimize the entire thing. Too many marital spouts are really "much ado about nothing."
4. Many people are advised to avoid "going to bed angry." In actuality, it is often a good idea to place a long pause in the course of an argument and just go to bed. By the next morning many people are surprised to see how their feelings have changed and the anger has abated.
5. Interrupting the fight is always a good idea. There is nothing wrong with a couple agreeing to stop the fight and go to separate rooms, or, if the apartment is too small, go for a walk around the corner. This gives everyone a chance to calm themselves and reconnect later.
6. One great way to disarm an argument is to embrace and hug. Of course, this needs to be an agreed upon strategy. However, it is very difficult to remain angry when hugging occurs.
7. This is why it is important to refrain from demonizing your spouse. It becomes all too easy, under the influence of anger, to begin experiencing your spouse as a terrible person who "always does this or never does that." In fact, I have counseled couples to practice eliminating "all" or "always" or "never," types of words from their arguing vocabulary.
8. There are no perfect people and, therefore, each person contributes their part to the hurt and anger in an argument. That is why the best thing to do is to admit a mistake you made, or a hurt you caused or admit some other type of injury you contributed to.
9. I have often told young couples that there are now three people in the marriage: "you, him and the marriage." It is important for people in an intimate relationship to stop thinking of "I" and what is best for "me" and to start thinking about what is best for "us" and "our marriage.
10. Number 9 provides the reason why it is so important to stop before saying something you may later regret because it is not good for the marriage.
11. I have been surprised by the number of couples who come for marriage therapy dreadfully afraid that the arguing is symptomatic of a "sick marriage." In actuality, that is mostly not the case. To go back to the start of this article, it is not that couples quarrel but how they do it that is the problem. And, the way people argue is often the result of what they witnessed between their parents arguing when they were children.
A final note is this: Just because there has been an argument is no reason to "catastrophize." People quarrel and can learn how to reduce the level and intensity of those fights. If it is not possible, then, there is always marriage or couples counseling and that can help a great deal.
Your comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.
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