When temperatures rise in a conflict with your spouse, tongues often get careless and you can end up doing a lot of damage. That’s why we have spoken and written before about what not to say when you are in a conflict and how to reach a conflict resolution. Guarding your words is important, but it’s equally imperative to know what you should say when you are in a disagreement about something.
These are not magic phrases that will help you win an argument. Rather they are about conflict resolution, expressions that demonstrate your commitment to coming to an agreement on whatever is dividing you. These 9 things to say to your spouse can help create a safe space within which you can navigate through disagreement.
1. I know we’re not on the same page, but I want to be…Acknowledging the difference is an important first step; you’re putting it out there rather than ignoring it in the hope that it will go away. That says your relationship is important—as does going on to express your desire to be in unity about an issue. You’re emphasizing that “we” matters more than “my way.” This is the third—and healthiest—of The Four Stages of Marital Conflict.
2. I want to understand where you’re coming from. Please tell me more. People feel valued and respected when you are willing to listen. Asking to hear more tells them that you recognize you may not see everything clearly and are at least willing to really try to see something from someone else’s perspective, to stand in their shoes. Here are some thoughts on How to Feel Understood By Your Spouse that will help you get inside their head.
3. Share with me how you’re feeling. Disagreements may seem to center on facts, but oftentimes there are strong emotions just below the surface. Inviting your spouse to share from their heart can help you get a clearer picture of what shapes their opinion on why, for example, they want to lease a car rather than buy one. Remember that feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. Don’t be tempted to explain why they shouldn’t feel that way about something.
Disagreements may seem to center on facts, but oftentimes there are strong emotions just below the surface.
4. How long have you felt like this? Content without context isn’t clear. Emotions don’t usually pop up overnight, but can have threads that go back years. Maybe that car-leasing view taps into insecurities about money that go back to an unstable childhood. This particular issue of conflict may actually bring to the surface deeper issues that need to be recognized and resolved.
5. You’ve got a good point; can we talk more about that? Validation is important. We are all more likely to be willing to seek common ground if we feel respected. As you demonstrate openness to their different opinion and perspective, your spouse may, in turn, be more ready to consider what you have to say.
6. You’re absolutely right about that. You don’t have to concede all that you believe, but it’s important to recognize when your spouse offers a good point. If your desire truly is to find the best way forward for the two of you together, you won’t see your spouse’s insight or knowledge as a setback but a step forward in reaching an agreement.
7. I said that the wrong way, can I have a “do over?” Susan and I have used this one quite a bit in our marriage. Even with the best intentions, sometimes we can end up saying something we regret. You’ll know—either by how they respond in turn, or the way they shut down, or through their body language. Aim to reclaim the progress you may be in danger of losing by rephrasing what you were attempting to say in a way that is kinder and more caring. How well do you know The 5 Do Over Rules in Marriage?
8. I know I hurt you. I apologize. Will you please forgive me? Recognizing when your words have wounded your spouse and saying it in a different way is only the start. You also need to take responsibility for where you went wrong. Again, doing so emphasizes that you are committed to the relationship. Here are 4 Tips When You Ask for Forgiveness in Marriage.
9. What can I do to make this better? Even if you think that they are more at fault than you are in this particular conflict, chances are you not entirely guiltless. Looking to make things right can soften the sharp edges between you. While the right words—such as an apology–can be very healing, sometimes they need to be backed up by actions that provide concrete evidence you really mean what you say. This question also helps you actively move towards your spouse, reminding you and them that the ultimate goal is “we” not “you and me.”
Which of these nine phrases is the most difficult for you to consider offering during a fight with your spouse, and why? What tenth one would you add to this list, that has helped you in times of conflict with your spouse? Share your answers below.