“Never, ever raise your voice at your spouse.”
You’ve heard it. Maybe once, maybe a million times. And maybe when you were engaged, it seemed like sound, but inapplicable advice because you just knew that neither of you were going to do something that extreme.
Well, I am here to tell you that we all get an opportunity to do it, and some – or even a lot – of us choose to do it, from time to time.
It happens. Someone gets heated or someone is tired, sick, or otherwise stressed out. Someone snaps.
So what do you do?
Don’t jump to conclusions and assume that your marriage is failing. The reason why I say this, is because the act of yelling is actually not a predictor of divorce. If you’ve ever studied John Gottman’s “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” you would know that voice volume doesn’t even make the cut. In fact, the real predictors of divorce have nothing to do with how loud you say something.
These particular predictors have much more to do with your body language, and also what you choose to say. Yelling is often a sign of attempted communication. It certainly isn’t ideal to yell, but in a lot of ways, it is better to argue than it is stonewall.
To be clear, however, we do not advocate shouting matches for any disagreements – this article is intended to show you that you aren’t alone in your situation, and that there are things you can do to handle conflict in more positive ways.
Consider the following 5 strategies the next time you start to get under each other’s skin:
1. Take a pause, and allow time for you and your spouse to process things.
This comes much more naturally for some people than it does for others. For example, some people get quiet or distant during an argument to collect their thoughts. They may watch TV, go for a walk, or sleep on the couch for the night. These aren’t necessarily bad behaviors, and may help you or your spouse to think before you say or do anything else that may be more harmful to your marriage.
Be clear about your intentions before you take a pause. Tell your spouse, “Look, I am feeling really upset right now. I just need a break for a little bit so I can figure out what is bothering me.” Keep in mind, though, thatstonewalling is not a way to take a break and is very harmful to your marriage.
2. Put yourself in his/her shoes.
Regardless of what you think your spouse should be doing or thinking, consider what things must look like for him or her. Did they have a hard day with the kids? A long day at work? Is the situation something that has a tendency to cause them stress (even if it doesn’t for you)? It’s possible that your day was more stressful or that they are being dramatic, but one of the best steps to creating a safer atmosphere for better communication is to try to see your spouse’s point of view before lecturing him/her.
3. Empathize with their feelings.
Say something simple like, “You’re probably right, honey,” to emphasize with your spouse’s feelings. Even better, you can easily take what they say and either repeat it back to them, or observe what they must be feeling. “I’m sorry. It seems like what I did was really frustrating for you,” goes a long way, and can be a great argument diffuser. Or even just nodding with an understanding facial expression while he/she tells you how they are feeling.
Also, listen to understand, not just so you can get a word in when you think you’re done listening to your spouse. Continue to ask follow-up questions until it seems like they have said their piece. These are simple ways to help your spouse feel validated, and they can initiate an open dialog.
4. Try to break your own feelings down to one or two sentences.
And not just any sentences. One or two criticizing sentences would not start the right conversation. Tell your spouse what it is that is deeply bothering you, because we all know that it’s rarely the dirty dishes. Think to yourself, “What truly bothers you about the dirty dishes?” Dig deep – messiness bothers you. Good. You’re afraid someone might come over and you’ll feel embarrassed about a messy house. Better. How about, you are afraid that when you ask your spouse to help you out and they do something else instead, that it means they don’t care about you or your desires? That’s probably it.
Digging deep like this definitely takes some practice. Truthfully, if your spouse cares about you, they probably don’t want to do something that makes you feel the way you are feeling. Once you identify your true feelings, then you can start an open conversation. Digging deep into your feelings and then condensing it down to a couple of sentences will often mean more and get you both farther than discussing the dirty dishes and division of labor for hours.
5. Be open to alternative solutions.
This is one of my favorites. One of the foremost reasons for divorce is not being able to see your partner’s point of view. The belief that your spouse’s point of view is some delusional reality while you see the situation for what itreally iswill only cause more, and future, contention. Be open to his/her suggestions for resolving a conflict. Your flexibility shows your faith in your relationship and in your spouse. Stubbornness exhibits fear and doesn’t often compel the right actions.
So, the next time you get into an argument with your spouse, consider these tips and give them a try. Hopefully, you will find that it will not only help you two handle conflict in positive ways, but also give you better habits the next time around so you can avoid any potential yelling before it starts.