We all know how important it is to watch our words when we are having a disagreement with our spouse. It’s easy to let wounding words slip out. But it’s not just what we say that we need to be careful about (here is What Not to Say to To Your Spouse During a Fight and 9 Things to Say to Your Spouse During a Fight), but what we do during an argument as well. Reading body language well can really help resolve conflicts with your spouse.
Communication is about much more than just the words we use. There’s the tone and volume when we speak, and then there’s the unspoken criticism we can give by the things we do. In fact, failing to recognize the importance of good body language has been identified as one of 4 Easy Mistakes People Make in Marriage. Here are six things not to do and to do the next time you find yourself arguing about something with your spouse.
Don’t roll your eyes; do look into theirs. Looking up to the ceiling or looking away is really dismissive; it says that your spouse is nagging or being unreasonable. That’s not going to help resolve an issue. Instead, make eye contact as they speak. This will encourage openness, intimacy, and vulnerability. Looking into your spouse’s eyes says you want to connect.
Don’t shake your head; do nod it. Disagreeing by shaking your head shuts down communication; it makes you seem stubborn, that you can’t even be bothered to listen to all they have to say. Better to concentrate on what they are trying to tell you, and nod to show that you understand. It doesn’t have to mean you agree, but it shows you are trying to understand where they are coming from.
Don’t frown; do smile. It’s amazing how much of what we are feeling plays out on our faces. By frowning you are showing your spouse displeasure and communicating that you don’t like them (or at least what they have to say). You may have a disagreement about something right now, but don’t forget this is the person you have chosen to love. Smiling reminds them you are more committed to them and your relationships than simply “winning” a fight.
Don’t fold your arms; do touch theirs. It’s the classic defensive, I’m-not-budging stance, and it’s not going to help you resolve anything. Rather than putting up a barrier between the two of you, build a small bridge by gently reaching out and touching their arm. Better yet, read about these 4 Benefits to Holding Your Spouse’s Hand and then reach out and take theirs. Physical contact encourages emotional connection: it’s hard to remain angry when you are touching someone.
Don’t walk away; do move closer. If things are getting really heated, it might be wise to agree to take a time out and reconvene later when you are both a bit calmer, but make sure to explain that’s what you feel will help. Simply leaving the room in temper, or throwing your arms up in the air shows contempt—a real relationship killer. Sitting side by side or moving nearer to your spouse while you talk signals that you also want to close the gap in whatever is dividing you.
Don’t concentrate only on their words; do focus on their heart. Even after more than 28 years of marriage, this is still a challenge for me. As a speaker and writer, words are important to me, and I can find myself responding to the specifics of what Susan may have said rather than listening for the emotion of what she is trying to express. Getting too hung up on the exact words your spouse is using may actually be missing the real point. Instead of drilling down into what they said, ask questions of clarity to help you better understand what they mean. Here are 4 Ways to Be an Intentional Listener.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done when the temperature starts to rise. But having these counter-intuitive responses in mind next time you find yourself in a disagreement with your spouse might help you resolve things more quickly and painlessly.
Which of these unhelpful responses do you find yourself most usually making when you are in a fight? How might you work on that in the future? Share your thoughts here.