I sometimes hear from people who wish that their spouse would just grow up when it comes to conflict within their marriage. Often, one spouse is very willing to sit down and work through their issues like an adult while the other seemingly is not.
I heard from a wife who said: “my husband and I handle our fights very differently. I never want to go to bed angry. I hate conflict. I immediately want to sit down and work through whatever it is that is going on. I don’t like to know that there is tension between us. But he doesn’t seem to care if we are becoming more and more distant from one another. When my husband and I were dating, I used to hate to go over to his house because his parents always fought quite openly. There was always a lot of door slamming and yelling. It made me very uncomfortable because that is not the way that I was raised. My parents rarely raise their voice. But my husband has no problem yelling and losing his cool. And lately when I try to get him to sit down and talk about our problems, he tells me that talking won’t fix everything and he sulks. When I do something that he doesn’t like, he withdraws his affection and he seems to shut me out in order to punish me. He pretty much just clams up and this drives me crazy. Sometimes, it is almost like I am looking at a toddler throwing a tantrum. I want him to grow up. I want him to sit down and talk to me like a mature adult. This is our marriage and the rest of our lives that we are talking about. But my husband just won’t see this. Instead, he seems perfectly happy to keep right on communicating in this very childish way. What can I do?”
I felt that this wife was right to be very concerned about this issue. Many experts say that the way that a couple fights and handles conflict is a very good indicator if that same couple will eventually end up divorced. The couples who remain married and who stay closely bonded are the couples who have learned to argue in a constructive way. It’s fine to fight. In fact, it’s important to clear the air from time to time. But it’s also vital that the fighting doesn’t become personal. It’s OK to attack the issue. It’s not OK to attack your spouse. It’s not OK to make it personal. You can hate the habit or the behavior but you can not insinuate that you hate your spouse, at least if you want for your marriage to be a healthy one.
And it’s very damaging and hurtful when one spouse withholds affection or attempts to punish the other during or after a disagreement. Because things only tend to escalate and deteriorate from there. So I agreed that it was vital for this couple to learn to work through their problems in a constructive manner. The wife was more than willing to do this, so now it was time for the husband to get on board.
Making Your Husband Understand The Need To Fight Fairly: The wife had been trying to shame or guilt her husband into changing the way he related to her in conflict. In short, they had developed a sort of child and parent relationship. She would take the high road and insinuate that he was being immature and childish. And although all of those things may have been somewhat accurate, bringing his attention to this probably isn’t going to inspire him to change. Instead, it is just going to make him more angry and more motivated to ramp up his behavior.
I believe the best way to start is to have a calm and thoughtful discussion when things begin to escalate. The next time the husband drifted back into this destructive way of dealing with conflict, the wife might say something like: “I need to stop you, honey. Because this is starting to go to a destructive place and I don’t want for this to keep happening to us. The whole point of us discussing this is to work through it and to stop the conflict. But right now we are arguing about something that isn’t even part of the original issue. This is only making things work. I know that this is how you are used to dealing with conflict, but it’s very hurtful to me and I don’t feel like it’s doing us any good. Why don’t we regroup and talk about the real issues at hand. I’ll go first.”
Then state your version of the events in the most constructive way possible. When you’re finished, stop and ask him to state his side of things. If he begins to drift into his old patterns stop him again and redirect him.
Bringing his attention to this is the key. Since the husband grew up in a tumultuous household, he really didn’t know any other way. That’s why it’s important to have patience and to try to gently redirect him. You don’t want to tell him that he’s being childish or immature. Instead, you just want to show him how to do better. And when he does, vow to offer all kinds of positive reinforcement. Because the whole idea is to make him want to do better and to give him the tools to do so.
This might mean that sometimes you have to lead by example and this can seem to be unfair sometimes. It might feel as though you are the one taking all of the initiative. But as you keep at it, he should develop a new way of communicating that is vital to saving your marriage. Because if these two continued to fight in the destructive way that had become a habit, the future of their marriage may be in question. And I doubted that this is what either of them wanted.