I think one of the keys to a successful marriage is the ability to fight with your spouse.
I don’t mean reality TV type fights. I don’t mean Chris Brown and Rihanna type fights. I mean healthy, productive fights.
Cory and I have been together for almost 8 years now, and we contribute our success to our way-open lines of communication. And yes, that does include fighting. Or, as I like to call it, passionately disagreeing.
I’m not afraid to fight with Cory because I trust him and I love him. I feel safe fighting with Cory because I know at the end of it, we’ll walk away stronger than before. Our fights rarely linger past the initial “argument” and then we’re good to go.
The good news: We’re not relationship gurus.
But because I am obsessed with couples and relationship counseling, I feel lucky to have stumbled upon John and Julie Gottman years ago – and as a result, I kiss they ground they walk upon.
From the Gottmans work, we’ve learned how to fight productively. It’s healthy to fight with your partner! It’s okay to disagree! It’s wonderful to challenge each other!
What’s not okay is when you do it in the wrong ways. I see couples break up all the time because they succumb to what the Gottmans call, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Criticism – This is detrimental because you’re attacking your partner’s character. You sling filthy words like, “you never” and “you always.”
Remedy: Use I statements. “I feel ____” and “When ______ happened, I felt ____”
Contempt – In a fight, this looks like name calling, eye rolling, sarcasm…anything with the intent to attack your partner’s sense of self and/or psychologically abuse them.
Remedy: Avoid low blows. They’re dirty and cheap.
Defensiveness – When fighting, you act as the victim, never wanting to claim any responsibility. You may say things like, “yes, BUT” or cross-complain, which is basically ignoring your partner’s complaint and meeting it with a complaint of your own.
Remedy: Listen and validate what your partner is bringing to the table. Allow them to speak without being interrupted. If you need to take notes while they speak so you know which points to later address, so be it.
Stonewalling – Disguised as “neutral” but in reality it’s avoidant and can been perceived as cold, isolating, smugness, or distant.
Remedy: Be present. Do not leave (physically or mentally) in the middle of the argument. The silent treatment is for middle schoolers, not adults in a committed relationship.
Am I perfect? Hello no! Do I fight perfectly? Never. But I do know which “horseman” I fall prey to most often, so I try my best to to prevent “fighting dirty” — and that tends to make all the difference.