By: Mark Pierce

When we are dating someone we care about we seldom ever argue with them. We may disagree about this or that, but we typically do so in a compromising way. At least we are open to one and others thoughts and opinions and anyway, we simply don’t want to risk losing the other to make a point. After marriage countless couples end up, as the metaphor states, fighting like cats and dogs. One major reason for this is that after marriage the couple is living in the same house or apartment, sharing the same space and enduring the same challenges…and problems. In addition the very structure of marriage is both restrictive and demanding. If there are children even more so! If money problems occur—and they do for most married couples—husbands and wives tend to take their stress out on each other. The bottom line is there are many reasons why the most sincere and so loving couples end up in bitter arguments. And it is often those bitter arguments that drive them to the divorce court or, in the least, living “aptly” ever after.

The first rule of thumb is to make a pact to “fight” the problems instead of each other.

The challenge to this sound advice is that husbands and wives too often blame one another for the problems. If it wasn’t for you doing this or that we wouldn’t be in this mess and so on and so on. While most marital problems are the result of the actions of both partners in the relationship, there can be times when one partner is more at fault for creating a problem than the other. Nevertheless, blame simply doesn’t work to repair anything. In fact, blame becomes an extension of the problem and, more often than not, is the culprit that turns a serious discussion into a family fight. After all, blaming is an unloving act!

During a serious discussion between mates an equally unloving act is simply not listening to each other. Most husbands and wives during a disagreement or debate tend to talk over one another which is not only destructive to mutual problem solving but inevitably ends up in a screaming match that accomplishes nothing but anger and upset.

In regard to the above it is absolutely essential for couples to practice the art of really listening to one another under ordinary circumstances so that when problems arise and disagreements and debates evolve, there remains that loving desire to know what is in the heart and mind of the other; of what the other is truly thinking and feeling. There are indeed few things more harmful to a relationship than not sincerely listening to what the other has to say. For one thing, no one likes to have their thoughts and opinions ignored or tossed aside. We all want more than merely to be heard…we want to be listened to.

Listening and not blaming begin the path of avoiding bitter arguments.

Another unloving act during a serious debate or disagreement is viewing the other as not understanding the problem. What this generally means is that your mate is not or does not view the situation in the same way you are seeing it. As a result, you begin to invalidate whatever the other is saying. And you are suddenly doing all the talking and none of the listening. Is it any wonder problem solving becomes such a threat to the marital relationship?
We never invalidate the others opinion when we are dating them. We listen—with interest—and are almost always ready to compromise our own opinion as a loving act of sharing and to quite simply get along while growing the relationship. After marriage, husband or wife too often fall into the trap of misinterpreting compromise with conformity. In other words a kind of “it’s my way or the highway” attitude emerges which demeans the other and harms the productivity of the relationship. It then becomes important for husband and wife to realize that they are not the same and view problems and, for that matter, life itself from different prospective and subjective projections. All human beings have different stress levels but men and women respond to stress, to fear, to fun, to grief, to wealth, to poverty and so forth differently; how we love and value the world is simply different for men and women and none of these responses invalidates the other.

A major problem is that when we are seriously dating one of our attractions to the other is their difference, their unique qualities as an individual. We love them for being wholly themselves. Then, after marriage, many husbands and wives begin to desire their mate to virtually stop being themselves and become like them—I just don’t understand, it is said during an argument, why can’t you see things my way. It’s all so simple, it’s all so cut and dried and blah, blah, blah…but we see, respond, think about and feel about things differently and, while we might value the very same thing, we will never value to the same degree or even for the same reasons. Thus, when problems arise—and they always will for couples—stop seeking conformity and begin building compromise. I repeat—fight the problems, not each other.

There is another issue that is essential to cover: When arguments and/or disagreements arrive never…never resort to name calling. Like blaming, all name calling does is evade facing the actual problems and creates a greater problem between the couple. Indeed, what might have began as a problem solving session will always end up becoming a problem making session when name calling evolves.

After such a “family fight of name calling” couples will usually stay solemn for awhile and then eventually make up. This making up doesn’t matter because on one level of consciousness or another, those names remain in the psyche and the relationship is never quite the same again. The more name calling under any circumstance the less loving the relationship becomes. And anyway, no couple can solve problems their marriage is having through name calling and therefore create greater problems for their marital relationship.

As a quick aside—always remember that your marriage and your marital relationship are not the same and each needs nurturing in different ways. Food for thought!

The other negative that is absolutely destructive is to be belittling at any time during married life but specifically during problem solving through discussion and debate. Indeed, there is probably no greater wrong in anyone’s marital relationship than one belittling the other. It is so destructive to the psyche that it literally makes working and building together impossible. Marriage after all is not necessarily about teamwork but about being friends and allies. Belittling destroys both!

The above message reminds me of the words of Karl Menninger. He says: “It is part of the function of marriage for the partners to supply each other that amount of support and encouragement which is necessary to assuage the wounds and frustrations encountered in the daily lives of each.”

What else do we need to know to avoid bitter arguments or, for that matter arguing with our mates at all. After all, fighting the problems instead of each other is also the loving thing to do.

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