My partner and I have been together for nearly ten years, and the last time we got into something I would call a “fight” was maybe five or six years ago. How do we do it? Do I just “yes, dear,” my way through every conflict? Does he? Not at all. In fact, most conflicts we have become meaningful conversations that strengthen our relationship and create solutions that actually stick. That’s because we learned how to communicate with each other without fighting.
Communicating with your spouse without fighting is something that requires both parties to completely change their mindset about the relationship and conflict in general. It’s not easy, but it can be done. In this post, we will cover why fights happen, how to change your mindset, and six strategies to employ when the inevitable does happen.
Why do fights happen in the first place?
Learning how to communicate with your spouse without fighting requires first learning why fights happen in the first place. They can happen for many reasons, but these are the three most common:
Your partner said something that activated you, and you can’t tell why. Alternatively, you’re in therapy, and you know exactly why what they said upset you. It’s because they said something that you internalized or were told about yourself, and hearing it reflected back sends you into a spiral. You are likely to overreact in response, which can easily trigger a fight.
On the flip side, if you say something offhand that makes your partner overreact, consider if what you said was a trigger for them. When both of you are thinking about your actions as having an effect on one another, and you’re able to connect an overreaction with how they’re feeling inside, it can help build empathy and reduce the number of fights you have.
2. Things build up over time
You get home from work and see the dishes in the sink, even though you asked them to put their dishes directly in the dishwasher multiple times. This is the third time this week you’ve come home to dishes in the sink, and now, you feel like you need to be angry at them to get your point across. Sound familiar?
When you notice things are starting to compound, it’s time to recognize there is a problem and pump the brakes. And I don’t mean nag your partner every day until it gets done. But more on this in the next section. It’s all about changing your mindset.
3. You need something you’re not getting
This is, by far, the most common reason for fights. You need connection, attention, help, or something else and you’re not getting it. Not getting it causes a buildup of frustration, and that frustration leads to fights. This is why one of the first steps in navigating conflicts for me is to determine why I’m upset in the first place. When we’re able to verbalize what we need, it cuts down on fights that feel circuitous and ultimately result in more fights later on.
Changing your mindset
Changing your mindset is not the easiest thing in the world, especially because you and your partner need to do it. Learning how to communicate with your spouse without fighting isn’t easy, either. But there are ways to make it easier.
The following are some ways you can start to make changes in your day-to-day lives in order to build deeper connections and avoid fights before they have a chance to begin.
1. Employ a daily check-in
Get together with your partner for 10-15 minutes at the end of each day and talk about how your days went. What you did, what they did, and any frustrations you noticed feeling throughout the day. This will help you address those things that build up over time. If you want to come up with solutions, don’t assume the solution is “just do the thing I asked you to do.” Trust that they would if they could, and go into your resolution with curiosity, not blame.
2. Don’t place blame
Speaking of blame– just don’t. The biggest thing that helped my partner and I cut down on our fights was seeing our relationship as a team effort. When something isn’t working, it’s no one’s fault, it’s just something that’s not working. We both have to come together with open minds to figure out what’s causing our boat to sink so we can repair it together. That is the mindset shift you and your partner need to make. Come at problems as a team, and get curious about how you can work together to solve them.
3. Admit it when you’re wrong
Maybe you’re the one not loading the dishwasher when your partner asked you to. Instead of sighing, getting up, and doing it when your partner nags you, turn it into an opportunity to reflect. What actually caused you not to put the dishes in the dishwasher? Is it muscle memory? Were you in a hurry to get your kid onto his next task? How can you change your day a little to make sure the dishes make it into the dishwasher?
If you’re the one coming home to a full sink, you may need to help your partner through this one. Again, it’s all about being curious and trying to figure out how and why things happen the way they do.
How to communicate with your spouse without fighting
You followed all the above steps and you and your partner both have been noticing fewer conflicts, but they still happen. It can be hard to remember to do the above all the time, and it’s doubly hard when your emotions are running high. So what do you do when the inevitable finally happens?
1. Come up with a game plan
This should happen before you get into a fight, ideally. You and your partner both need to agree on how to operate during a conflict, and what should happen when emotions get too high. When you both acknowledge that fights and conflicts will happen, but you have a plan you’ve agreed on, it can take some of the pressure off when the fight does start.
2. Take some time to figure out what you need
Before you jump into a conflict, you need to have an understanding of what the actual problem is. You’re pissed off because your husband never does dishes. Are the dishes the problem, or is there a fundamental lack of balance with household chores? If you hate that your partner never makes the bed after they get up, is that the problem, or is it because you don’t want the hairy dog rolling around on the sheets?
If you already know what the underlying issue is, then take this time to cool off a little. Fights start when emotions are running high, and it is a lot easier to remember these steps and come together with your partner when you’re not frustrated out of your mind.
3. Clarify and confirm understanding
One of the best ways to keep the energy low is to reiterate, reiterate, reiterate. When your partner brings something to the table, instead of immediately challenging it or jumping into solutions, repeat it back. For example:
Partner: “Honey, I feel like when you’re on your phone scrolling through social media, you’re not really listening to me.”
You: “I see. You’re saying that when I’m looking at my phone, it feels like I’m not paying attention to you?”
When you do this, it makes your partner understand that you are, in fact, listening and understanding them, and it cuts down on miscommunication, which can frequently happen in the heat of the moment.
4. Employ the “five minutes” rule
My partner and I have a rule for fights. At any time during the fight, either of us can say the phrase, “five minutes,” and we have to stop and separate for five minutes, no talking. You can physically separate if you like, but my partner and I prefer to just sit in silence together and cool off and reflect. I often find myself turning the conversation over in my head and either coming around to his point of view or coming up with a compromise, regardless of who called for five minutes.
Sometimes I take that time to just get all the crying and anger out of my system so that I can come back to the conversation with a clear mind. Either way, employing this rule is the main reason we haven’t yelled at each other in over five years.
5. Figure out how you best focus and communicate
This may or may not be a problem for you. In our relationship, I need eye contact during conflict to reaffirm that I’m being heard. My partner, on the other hand, needs to either fidget or have his eyes closed to take in and process information. Our solution was to give him a small, quiet, handheld fidget toy he can use while we’re talking. That way, I can have my eye contact, and he can fidget.
If you need certain things in order to be comfortable, go over them in your game plan before a fight happens. Use this as practice for coming at problems as a team and coming up with solutions that make you both happy.
6. Use “I” statements
Instead of telling your partner all the things they did wrong or assuming how they feel, tell them all the ways you feel. The usual framework for these types of statements is, “When X happens, I feel Y.” Or, “When you do X, it makes me feel Y.” Make sure to use objective language when describing what your partner did to make you feel that way. For example, “When the dishes don’t make it into the dishwasher, I feel frustrated,” as opposed to, “When you forget to put the dishes in the dishwasher, I feel frustrated.” You don’t know yet if your partner forgot, or if something else came up. Using “I” statements keeps the majority of assumptions out of the equation, which will lead to less frustration during the conflict.
Conflict with your partner doesn’t have to be a fight. The most important things to do are to remember that you are a team, and that you can work together to solve most problems. Practice freeing each other of blame, use “I” statements, and remember to reaffirm your love for each other before and after the conflict.If you struggle with navigating conflict in any area of your life, you’re not alone. At Modern Era Counseling, our team of premiere therapists can help you navigate the difficulties that come with being in a relationship. You’ll learn strategies for navigating conflict and strengthening your relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. Give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or click here to shoot us an email and get started today.