I avoid arguments in my relationships because I hate conflict. I also despise feeling weak or vulnerable. I’m not keen on expressing pain, anger, or disappointment either. It’s one of the reasons I write in this blog. I write to expunge my feelings. Then I convince myself I don’t need to talk about them.
I spent the first forty years of my life believing strong people could push past through their feelings. Then chastised myself for not being one of those people.
I now know that weakness does not come from feeling these emotions. Weakness comes from pretending that I don’t feel them in the first place. It comes when I hide my pain because I fear the repercussions of sharing it.
I still struggle to talk about my emotions. It’s difficult to say, “I’m hurt. I’m sad. I’m disappointed.” It’s difficult to speak up for fear of an argument, but strength does not come from silence.
If I want my husband to recognize my concerns I have to speak up. Even if it’s immensely difficult to do so.
The Anxiety of Divorce Silenced Me
At the beginning of our relationship, I rarely voiced my opinion. I was young, naive, and insecure. My husband may have had a long list of grievances about me, but I kept my opinions about him to myself.
Back then, I didn’t have the guts to speak up. Young couples shouldn’t fight. If we fought it meant our relationship was unstable. I bit my tongue for fear that we would break up. Later for fear that our marriage would end. The anxiety of divorce silenced me.
Arguments in Relationships
My parents rarely argued when I was a child. When they did, the argument always involved some drama with my grandmother.
I loved my grandmother, but she could be a difficult woman. She shared her opinions and ideas, no matter how they affected the people around her.
When my parents fought my grandmother’s name echoed in the air. My dad’s boisterous voice sent it bouncing down the small hallway to my bedroom.
My parents didn’t fight often. Maybe they fought when I wasn’t around or after I fell asleep at night. Either way, (other than a handful of arguments), their relationship seemed happy and healthy.
Arguing Early in Our Relationship
So when my husband and I began having big blow ups once or twice a year I felt ashamed of our arguments. Those fights were nothing like the happily-ever-after stories I dreamed about when I was a child.
We fought and still fight, about extended family members, like my parents used to do when I was a child. We argue about nosy relatives who cause drama and like to voice their unwanted opinions, but we fight about other things too.
At the beginning of our marriage, my husband would huff upstairs after a fight, pull the covers over himself, and begin snoring. This drove me batty. My parents taught me never to go to sleep angry, but my husband was never taught that same lesson. His parents can go days without talking to one another.
I could never understand how he fell asleep after an argument. As I listened to his heavy breathing I tossed and turned for hours.
“Would we get divorced? Should we get divorced?” I wondered as I rewound the argument like an old VHS tape. What did he say? What did I say? Why couldn’t we resolve the fight? Why did we rehash the same issues over and over?
Raising My Voice While Arguing
I’m typically a calm, rational, patient human being, but after twenty years of having the same set of fights, I can hear my voice getting louder when we argue.
When I’m pushed to the limit I sometimes spout profanities. I reserve these powerful obscenities for deep-rooted anger. Feeling annoyed, irritated, or ticked-off won’t elicit the same response. I can be perfectly calm in those situations.
I don’t call my husband names. Instead I blow the obscenities out into the air around us. I curse the situation not the individual. Raising my voice isn’t the norm for me and whenever it happens I’m surprised by the sound of it.
Talking louder might make me feel better for a moment or two, but after that, it doesn’t help much, so I stop. I know a louder volume never helps the situation, but sometimes I feel the need to release the tension before I can resolve the conflict.
For the record, I never begin an argument by screaming or shouting. I raise my voice mid-way through a disagreement. I get louder in response to feeling dismissed or ignored.
Thankfully, my fury extinguishes quickly. After raising my voice for just a moment I settle back down calmly and rationally.
Of course, raising my voice won’t resolve my problems. When I get loud my husband shuts down. I can’t express my thoughts or opinions clearly either.
So I search for productive ways to handle our disagreements.
How to Have Healthy Arguments
Whether I like them or not it’s tough to avoid all arguments. I wish I learned that lesson sooner.
It’s natural for two individuals to hold opposing points of view and sometimes to fight about those differences. We cannot avoid all disagreements, but we can make those arguments much less stressful and much more productive.
Over the years I’ve discovered a few ways to disagree productively. Our relationship is still a work in progress. Though, these techniques have resulted in shorter arguments and quicker resolutions.
I don’t want to yell or cuss, but I do want to voice my opinion and feel heard when I feel hurt. By holding in my thoughts I only hurt myself. In the past, I didn’t purge my anger or look for ways to resolve my pain. Instead, I buried my emotions and allowed bitterness to build.
Speaking up is the first step in resolving issues. Before talking with my husband I try to calm myself. I think about what I want to say and how I want to relay the information to him.
I want to begin the conversation in a non-aggressive way. If I attack him I know we won’t reach a resolution.
State What You Want Rather Than Using Accusations
For example, rather than saying, “You never help me with the laundry.” I can ask, “Can you help me do the laundry this week?” The first statement sounds like criticism. The other is simply a request for help.
Rather than saying, “You always spend time helping your parents.” I’d say, “I want us to spend some time together.”
Talking this way allows for an open discussion. If I start out with accusations he’ll feel personally attacked. Using these statements doesn’t mean I always get what I want, but I will get better results overall.
If you do the majority of the housework don’t say, “I’m always doing the dishes, laundry, and cleaning the house.” Instead say, “Can you help me with the dishes or by cleaning the house?”
It’s better to ask for help, than to sound like an angry martyr.
Setting a Goal for Our Discussion
Before we talk I try to imagine the goal for our discussion. What exactly do I want to achieve? Am I looking for him to apologize for something he said or did? Do I want him to do something to help me? Actions and apologies are very different things.
Sometimes I’m not looking for a resolution at all. I just want him to know that I am upset. I don’t want to pretend that things are perfect when I’m unhappy.
Figure Out Why We’re Arguing
Life can be difficult and draining. Sometimes I’m simply in a bad mood and feel more agitated by my husband’s actions than others. Some days I’m mad about the traffic, the kid’s homework, and the list of housework in need of completion.
Spouses and partners can be a target for that anger. Rather than taking it out on my husband I try to calm myself and ask why I’m annoyed. Am I upset with him or irritated by my surroundings?
Can he help me with the long list of chores? Can I ask him to watch the kids for a while? In other words, can I break the negative feelings before they swell into an unnecessary argument?
Can I ask for help or say I’m feeling tired?
Sometimes I need to walk away for a few minutes while we are fighting. I don’t need a few hours or days to mill over our conversation, but I do need a few minutes to calm down from it.
I’ll take a brief walk, wash the dishes, or start cleaning the kids’ toys. Yes, for some reason, cleaning the house is a great way for me to get out my aggression.
When I am feeling upset it helps to walk away before saying something I regret. It also gives me time to reflect on what we talked about. It allows me to think about what I want to say without being too hasty or judgmental.
Put Yourself In Your Partner’s Shoes
My mom taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes whenever I don’t agree with them. So before I respond I try my best to listen to my husband and put myself in his place.
How would I feel if I were him? Would I have reacted similarly to the same action or event?
I try to talk to him about this and to show him that I understand his perspective, but that doesn’t invalidate my feelings. We must balance our own feelings alongside our partners.
By putting myself in his shoes I try to see the situation from his perspective.
As I age I try to pause more during our arguments. It’s natural to become defensive and begin to dispute facts the moment after they’re uttered. Now I take a moment or two to think about what my husband said. Rather than racing to defend my position I pause and reflect on his words.
I use that time to churn the idea around in my mind. Just a few moments of silence can really help me think through an issue without responding in anger.
In fact, I am more honest with him when I take the time to think about the wide range of emotions I feel. Over time it’s gotten easier to talk about feeling hurt or disappointed rather than resorting to feeling angry.
My husband has a knack for flipping an argument on its head. He can shift a topic in such a way that I become the focal point. He can twist an argument so that I become the focus of the problem. I wasn’t aware of this technique at the beginning of our relationship, but now I am.
Pausing allows me to refocus and redirect the argument to where I need it to be at this particular moment. We can certainly discuss his thoughts and concerns, but we don’t need to twist the conversation right now.
That conversation can continue after we’ve completed the first one.
Assume the Best In Your Partner
After years of living with a partner it’s easy to think the worst of them, so I try to clear that clutter from my mind and assume the best instead. I recognize that my partner is probably not doing something to be vengeful, spiteful, or selfish.
I try to think of the person I first fell in love with and remember that we are in a partnership together. After all, I must have chosen this person for a few good reasons.
Most of us are not out to harm one another. Sometimes we need to work through our differences and discuss our needs together.
Learning While Arguing
Despite knowing my husband for more than half of my life I’m still amazed by how much I learn about him as we argue. As a result of our heated debates, I learn about the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that drive him.
I begin to see how his desires and dreams don’t always align with my own. And while I don’t like everything I hear in the midst of an argument I do understand his actions and concerns.
I still don’t like arguing, but I don’t shy away from it anymore. I view our arguments in a much healthier light. In fact, I realize how unhealthy it was not to have disagreements earlier in our relationship.
If we can talk through these matters than it means we still care enough to try to fix them. I’d be much more worried if we stopped talking. Silence means we’ve given up on making things better.
All of these techniques shorten our arguments, so no one has to go to bed angry. In fact, believe it or not, within a few minutes of arguing we are often smiling.
We might not be perfect. We might argue, but over time we’ve gotten so much better at expressing our concerns and hearing one another.
Looking back on our relationship, I regret not speaking up sooner.