How to Get Past a Fight with Your Spouse

My husband and I fight sometimes.  Well, okay, it seems like we can’t go more than a couple of weeks without a big one.  I’m not thrilled about that, but experts say that arguing, if done appropriately, is healthy for a marriage. We have a strong and very happy marriage (aside from a day or two here and there).  And no matter how serious our fights have seemed, and, quite honestly, I do at the time often wonder how (or if!) we’ll get past them, we always do. And I always feel closer than ever to my husband once we’ve made up.  Here are some key points for how to get through and past a fight with your spouse. 

  • Don’t be in a hurry.  Sometimes feelings are so bent, it’s impossible for one or both of you to discuss things reasonably and rationally.  If you try to force the issue while feelings are still raw, the fight is likely to escalate.  Whoever came up with the tip “Don’t go to bed angry” was living in a dream world.  Time and distance might be all you need to begin to see your spouse’s side of the argument (and for him or her to see yours).  Waiting a while (maybe half an hour, or maybe a few days, depending on the circumstances) can prevent a lot of needless heat from being added to the fire.
  • Don’t drag the kids into it.  Even if you are fighting about the kids—no, especially if you are fighting about the kids—they shouldn’t be front stage to all the drama.  It’s good for kids to see small spats resolved in front of them (it teaches them conflict resolution skills), but if the disagreement is serious and is going to last more than a few minutes (or involves sensitive topics), reach a temporary armistice and wait till you can hash things out in private.  And don’t ever ask the kids to take sides and don’t even just air your gripes about your spouse to them.  They are your children, not your therapist or marriage counselor.
  • Don’t draft your friends or family as active participants.  Of course you want to share your frustrations with a friend, but don’t divulge intimate details about your spouse, and don’t ask your confidant to pick sides.  You want a sympathetic ear and maybe a word or two of advice.  You don’t want your confidant to say, “Yeah, I never liked him!  He smells bad!  Throw the bum out!”  When you make up with your spouse, you might feel angry at your confidant for saying mean things (even if you agreed with them at the time), and it will likely start a chasm between your spouse and your confidant (last thing you need). Also, choose “your” people as confidants, not your spouse’s.  In other words, don’t turn to your mother-in-law or your spouse’s best friend for sympathy.
  • Fight fair.  Don’t say hurtful things to your spouse to try to gain an upper hand.  Fights usually spring up over things that were unintentional, but deliberately adding to your spouse’s anger and pain will only prolong the fight and weaken the relationship.
  • Don’t get physical.  No matter how angry you are, there is never a place for pushing, shoving, or hittingAnd don’t throw or break things.  Even if the action isn’t directed at your spouse, it’s a violent act and will only escalate the tension.
  • Try not to shout.  This is a hard one for most people.  If you feel that you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to get worked up and raise your voice, but, again, this only escalates things (and is scary for your kids).  Your side of the argument won’t seem any more convincing when it is shouted.
  • Don’t make threats or ultimatums.  Once you are both calm enough to talk things out civilly, you can discuss changes that you feel must be made (“I would really appreciate it if you would put your dishes in the dishwasher”), and you can talk about how the issue is making you feel (“When you leave your dishes in the sink, I don’t feel like your wife, I feel like your maid”), but don’t throw in a threat to illustrate your seriousness (“If you leave your dishes in the sink one more time, I’m going to divorce you!”).
  • Try to see your spouse’s point of view.  In almost every case, there is at least some blame to place on each party.  Even when your spouse has done something that is clearly wrong, there might be something you did that (your spouse thinks) encouraged the incident.  Note that this doesn’t always justify the misdeed, but it’s helpful to understand the motivation.  Even if you are totally blameless, understanding why your spouse did something might make you realize that he or she had some basis for the action.  You might not agree with how he or she reacted, but at least you will be somewhat comforted to know that it’s not just random, crazy, or malicious behavior.   
  • ApologizeAs mentioned above, the blame can usually be spread around.  Apologize sincerely for any part you had in the fight, however small (it might not seem so small to your spouse), and even if you honestly can’t see your contribution, apologize for the course the fight took (“It really hurt me that you threw away my mom’s ladle, but I’m sorry I screamed at you in front of company.”)
  • Share how you feel.  It’s not enough to just tell your spouse that what he or she did made you angry; you need to convey why.  Rather than saying, “It makes me mad when you tell the kids I won’t allow something,” say, “When you tell the kids I won’t allow something, it makes me feel like the bad guy.  I feel like they need to know that we are both on the same page.”
  • Ask for (and make) suggestions.  Moving past an argument is easier if both of you feel like the issue is less likely to happen again.  If you are the wronged party, ask your spouse what he or she thinks will help prevent it from happening again.  If you are at fault, reassure your spouse by saying how you will try to handle things in the future.  But remember that both of you are only human.  Don’t hold these suggestions as promises that are written in stone (unless they are for a very, very serious offense).
  • Resolve the fight.  Make sure you both understand each other’s point of view, apologies have been made, and you have a path forward.  However, resolution doesn’t always mean that a disagreement is solved.  You may never see eye-to-eye on the problem.  But it is still possible to move past it.  You can resolve the unsolved issue by deciding how you will handle the conflict going forward and how you will respect each other’s right to an opinion.   
  • Forgive.  If you don’t feel like you can forgive your spouse, the fight hasn’t been resolved.  Back up and talk through it some more.  But once you really do have resolution, you need to close the fight and forgive.  Do not hold the grievance against your spouse, do not dwell on it in your thoughts, and do not bring it up during subsequent fights.
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