Elie Wiesel wrote, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” And divorce usually happens because one or both spouses became indifferent. They didn’t hate each other, but like all couples, they argued. And they didn’t resist the urge to see conflict as a sign of a terrible marriage. So they drifted into indifference.
But indifference doesn’t have to describe your marriage. I’m not writing to tell you couples should never argue. I’m writing to say you should argue better. You have an opportunity to show love when you know how to argue effectively with your spouse. Here are 3 ways to make your married arguments productive.
1. Be honest.
Sure, maybe you aren’t outright lying to your wife. But when you talk about an issue, do you make it sound worse than it is? Or do you have relevant thoughts and feelings you decide not to share? Honesty doesn’t just happen. Often, a spouse may be prone to half-truths, giving only partial information. Whether it’s not talking about finances or some other serious decisions, guard yourself against any form of lying. Also, be careful not to intentionally change the subject to divide your spouse’s attention.
It takes courage to be honest. I’ve found couples simply need to keep growing in their understanding, empathy, and care toward each other. If we’re looking for ways to appreciate our spouses, we’re more likely to want to see things from their perspectives. When it’s truly important to us to understand each other, we foster honesty. When we want to be understood, we more easily reveal what we’re truly thinking. And when we want to understand our spouses, it’s easier for us to hear (and even ask for) their thoughts. This is part of honesty and it’s the honest couples who handle arguments best.
2. Attack the problem, not the person.
It’s tempting to attack the person rather than the problem. Maybe you talk while your spouse is talking, raise your voice, or say something hurtful. We must prioritize focusing on the issue rather than the person. I’ve found it’s best only to address one issue at a time. And, when addressing something, try not to bring up the history of the other spouse’s behavior. It never helps. In fact, it usually creates more division.
Remember that everything you do communicates something. From facial expressions and hand gestures to sighing and rolling eyes, what are you communicating most often? Love? Hate? Indifference? The best way I’ve found to attack the problem rather than the person is to be solution-oriented. If I’m talking about the problem, then I’m not talking about the person. “Maybe we could try this new restaurant I’m excited about!” sounds much more loving than “We always eat where you want to eat and I hate it.”
3. Actively listen.
During an argument, it’s important not to formulate what you’re going to say while your spouse is talking. Active listening is a skill you can learn. I’m a literal listener. I hang on every word that’s said. My wife, Susan, is more of a big-picture person. We simply have different communication styles. Since we know this, when Susan and I have a tough topic we need to address, we use the speaker-listener technique. Dr. Gary Smalley also calls it “drive-through communication” because you communicate like you do when you’re ordering in a drive-through line. You give your order and the cashier repeats it: “That’ll be two burgers, a medium fry, and a large Coke.” If the cashier heard you correctly, you say so. If not, you try again.
Imagine using the speaker-listener technique in your marriage. How much would active listening change your arguments? Let’s approach arguments by acting in kindness, staying easy to get along with, and being gracious. Even when you’re arguing, you can still be compassionate. You can learn to say only what will build up your spouse instead of tearing him or her down.
What else can a couple do to make arguments in marriage more productive? Share in a comment below.