This last May, my husband and I celebrated our 8 year wedding anniversary. It is crazy to think of both how short a time that is and yet how long it seems and how much has happened during that time. We both graduated with our undergrad degrees, bought our first home, had our first baby, graduate school for my husband, finishing our basement and having our second baby, plus family vacations, birthdays, holidays… I could go on forever!
As many women who are to be married, I had bridal showers thrown by family and friends. (I had a total of three.) And at each shower, all of the women gave their advice for how to have a happy marriage. It was fun and enlightening to hear what each person had to say. Some I agreed with and others I accepted with a smile on my face but quickly discarded. My favorite wedding advice I ever heard was at one of my best friend’s bridal showers when her aunt or grandma (I can’t remember which) said, “If you’re gonna fight, fight naked!” HAHA! I think there’s probably some truth to that. *wink*
But it was the advice that I heard from an older relative of mine that I thought was the worst. When it came around to her, she said: “Never go to bed angry. Whatever you’re fighting about should be resolved before you go to sleep.” Now, let it be said that I love this relative dearly. In addition, I also recognize that she came from a different time and what was “expected” of a wife or marriage relationship was different than today and maybe she was sharing what worked for her and her husband.
Now, I feel pretty confident in saying that many, if not most, of the married or soon-to-be married or even single women have heard this same advice spoken by a well-meaning friend or family member.
I totally disagree!
Let me explain why:
First, I have to bring up the fact that my major in college was Marriage and Family Studies, which is basically a pre-marriage/family counseling major. I had to take
a million a ton of marriage classes. I loved every single one of them. But one of my favorites was a class called Forming Marital Relations and was taught by the dean of the school (Dean Busby, BYU) who specializes in, among other things, relationship conflict/conflict management in couples.
I specifically remember learning about this concept because it was different than anything I’d heard of or considered before. We learned about different ways that couples fight (there are four) and that only one of the four is actually dysfunctional, although the other three are not created equally. My professor taught that success in relationships isn’t determined by whether or not you fight, but rather HOW you fight. That concept is one that I’ve carried with me and thought about since then. (You can learn more HERE.)
I think there is a misconception that if you fight or disagree with your spouse, then you have problems. (While this may be true in some cases, I would venture a guess that it’s not the majority.) Fighting (or disagreeing) happens when you have two different people who have two different backgrounds and two different opinions on something and they disagree. I’ve found that since having kids, parenting is one of those areas where my husband and I have disagreed. He comes from a family where he is the youngest of six kids and was kind of given free reign growing up. I am the oldest in my family and my parents were more strict with me. You can see where just that fact alone causes a difference in approach or opinions.
Another area of conflict is money. (What? Fighting about money? Never!) My husband and I agree that we need to have a budget but his ideas are much stricter than mine. He also values certain things more than I do, such as electronics. I value certain things more than he does, such as craft supplies and clothes. There have been times over the years where we have butted heads over these topics and we’ve had to work to resolve them together. These are just two examples, but I could come up with dozens more. And it’s not because my husband and I fight or disagree all the time, because we don’t!
So, what do you do when you and your spouse come up against a problem that needs solving or an issue that needs to be discussed? How do you handle it?
Here are 5 suggestions for working through arguments (and going to bed angry is actually one of them!):
Set aside time to talk
Depending on the size of the issue, it might be a good idea to set aside some time to talk about it. Wait until after the kids go to bed. Hire a sitter to watch the kids while you go to dinner. Take a walk around the park. If it’s important enough to argue about, then it’s important enough to take the time to talk it over without feeling rushed.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
If you’ve read Stephen R. Covey’s: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, then you’ve heard this before. And even if you haven’t read the book, it’s a phrase that’s thrown around often when talking about communication. Our knee jerk reaction when someone disagrees with us is to try to defend our stance. We are so worried about proving our point, that we don’t even listen to the other person talk and sometimes we even talk over them before they’re done. (I know I’m guilty of this one.) The reason this one is so difficult is because we are viewing everything a person does through our own frame of reference, rather than thinking about it from their point of view. When we make a conscious effort to really listen to what the other person is saying, and the other person does the same, it’s a lot easier to come up with common ground and an agreeable solution.
Don’t involve family members or friends
One of the first rules my husband and I established with each other when we started dating was that if we had a problem with the other person, we needed to discuss it with them. Not family. Not friends. Not the random stranger in front of you in the line at the grocery store. This is a lot harder for women than it is for men because when women talk, it’s about relationships. When men talk, it’s about sports, politics, data, etc. To be clear, I’m not referring to things like getting suggestions for potty training or tips for getting your kids out the door on time. I’m talking specifically about issues that involve you and your spouse and possibly your kids (discipline, schools, extracurricular activities, etc). When you start bringing other people into your relationship, you are creating even bigger problems than were there in the first place.
Sleep on it
It’s true! The complete opposite advice that I received from my well-meaning relative is actually one that I personally give to couples getting married! Here’s why: You are not going to be discussing things rationally or able to give your full attention to a subject if you are tired. Tired = grumpy and emotional. There have been many occasions when my husband and I have started talking about something, which lead to talking about something else that we didn’t even realize was an issue and the next thing we know, it’s midnight and we’re getting no where because we’re both tired and know that we’ll need to be getting up early. So my advice is just sleep on it. Wake up with a (hopefully) full night’s rest and a clear head and resume your discussion at another time when you can devote your attention and time to it.
Pick your battles
Let’s face it: The person you married is not going to agree with you on everything. And (surprise!) you’re not going to agree with them. If you fought or argued about everything you disagreed on, it’s totally possible that you would be constantly fighting. So just let it go. Pick your battles. Ask yourself if you really need to open your mouth and say something. Some days, I am looking for a fight so I’ll start getting nit-picky about the littlest things. My husband usually can tell when I’ve had a rough day and will (wisely) remove himself and the kids from me for a while so I can have a little space. And given this time, I will see the error of my ways and take a chill pill. *wink*
I hope these suggestions gave you some tools to use in your relationships!
What was the worst wedding advice you got? Share below!
Ha!! I love the one about fighting naked!! I might have to give that advice at the next wedding I go to…after I try it of course! I always felt guilty about going to bed angry. Usually my husband is pretty good about working to resolve a problem the same day even if I feel hard headed about it, but we have gone to bed angry for sure! We survived it!
I have to say that I REALLY like this post. You really get to the root of what a marriage should be about not what is expected.
I remember hearing that little piece of advice too! But your suggestion to "sleep on it" makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the other tips too!
I'm totally guilty of trying to figure out all of our problems before bed! It makes sense logically that it'd be better to talk about it in the morning when your head is more clear and you're less emotional but I seriously hate that feeling of going to sleep mad haha.