I have been married to my wife Melanie for 19 years. I couldn’t tell you how many fights we’ve had during that time. Hundreds, maybe?
Today I added one more to the list. She said something that I took the wrong way, and my reaction told her something was wrong. I brushed it off because she had to leave for a dentist’s appointment, and I continued to stew about it the whole time.
But in the hour before she came back, I realize I had been a bit childish and probably misunderstood her. We talked through the problem, and I discovered I had indeed taken her comment the wrong way. We quickly worked through it, and all was right with the world again.
Any married man knows that arguments are a part of marriage. Heck, they’re part of almost every relationship.
But not every man follows the rules of engagement in arguments with his wife. Arguments are going to happen, but they don’t have to be fatal to your relationship. In fact, when you work through arguments in the correct way, it can strengthen your relationship with your wife instead of tearing it down.
These are ten rules every man should follow when fighting with his wife. I don’t get them right all the time (and sometimes I mess them up royally), but they have been a big help in keeping our relationship healthy.
1. Take the time to calm down.
During an argument, one or both of you will get emotional. That is usually not the best time to work through all the issues surrounding the argument. It’s better to wait a little while until everyone calms down. But don’t wait too long—work through an argument sooner rather than later, so it doesn’t fester and turn into a major battle.
2. Don’t say something you’ll regret.
The longer you’ve been married, you more you know which buttons to push that will tick off your wife. It might be something from her past, an issue where she lacks self-confidence, or a grudge you have against her family. In the heat of an argument, it’s easy to throw verbal bombs that can destroy the woman you vowed to love and cherish. If you’re not careful, those words will come back to haunt you.
3. Realize that your emotions might not represent reality.
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to understand this concept. We all tend to think that our perspective is correct, not matter what the situation. But just because you’re angry about something doesn’t mean you’re right. People who let their emotions run their lives get into trouble very quickly.
4. Use “I feel” instead of “You did” statements.
When you’re upset at your wife (or she is upset at you), it’s natural to put the blame on her. But that doesn’t help resolve the situation. A great way to neutralize the anger is to express how you felt when she did something. “When you said that it made me feel that way.” It lets you express your emotions while also taking responsibility for them. (After all, it’s not possible for something to “make you mad” because we choose how to emotionally respond to others.)
5. Don’t shut down.
My modus operandi is to shut down in response to an argument. I’ve always hated conflict, so I naturally want to leave the room or shut down emotionally. But that doesn’t help. Don’t retreat into your physical or mental “man cave” and sulk for a few hours or days. Be a man and work through the conflict, even it’s uncomfortable.
6. Don’t dismiss her feelings.
Can we all just admit that we sometimes dismiss our wives’ feelings because they are “too emotional”? One of the reasons that’s not helpful is because it’s simply not true. Just because you are a Stoic doesn’t mean you are more rational in your words and actions. We all tend to make decisions based on emotion and then justify them rationally. Besides, marriage isn’t based on ration and reason—it’s based on a choice to respect, honor, and cherish your spouse. That includes listening to her and taking her perspective seriously.
7. Let her cry.
I grew up in a family where it was rare for someone to raise their voice. Arguments rarely happened. So it took me many years to become comfortable with my wife crying. She came from a family where everyone expressed their emotions freely. Unfortunately, in the early years of our marriage, I didn’t let my wife cry when she needed. I didn’t realize it was a healthy release valve. These days I’m much more comfortable with it and understand it’s how she deals with strong emotions.
8. Accept that you might be at fault.
What if the conflict might actually be your fault? This is a hard pill to swallow because as long as you believe your wife is at fault, you don’t feel a responsibility to make things right. But as soon as you admit that you probably contributed to the conflict on some level, you then become responsible for helping resolve it. And the truth is that most of the time, we probably contributed to the conflict in some way.
9. Don’t assume she’s looking for a solution.
Men like to solve problems and fix things. This is great for business and leadership, but not always great for relationships. Your wife is not a puzzle to solve or a problem to fix. She is a person to love. When you’re having an argument, the first thing you should do is listen attentively. It’s tempting to jump in and solve whatever issue is bothering her, but she may not want a solution. She may just want you to listen and empathize with her feelings.
10. Choose love over being right.
We love stories about sports and adventure because we love to conquer things. We carry this tendency into marriage, where we will sometimes do anything to prove we are right. But marriage is not about winning, it’s about relationship. That means sometimes you must admit you were wrong or did something to offend your wife, even if it wasn’t intentional. Swallow your pride and be quick to acknowledge when you’re wrong.
When I was a younger man, I would sometimes go two or three days without really talking to my wife after an argument. I was too stubborn and prideful to meet her halfway. Thankfully, I am more mature these days, and we resolve arguments pretty quickly. These ten guidelines have helped me immensely, and I’m confident they’ll do the same for your marriage.
Photo: Flickr/ Eric Parker