It might sound crazy, but conflict in your marriage can be a healthy sign.
Two people who see the world in very different ways are never going to agree on everything.
Too often, couples let marriage fighting spin wildly out of control before they realize it could have been handled differently.
But there’s a difference between disagreements and a full-blown argument. How do you toe the line?
We’re usually not our best selves in the middle of an argument, so it can be difficult to keep that conflict from escalating into a destructive, hurtful conversation.
How do you save yourself from going there? Here are five things to remember the next time you get into it.
1. Think: “My spouse is for me, not against me.”
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher who has dedicated most of her career to understanding marriage. She’s interviewed thousands of couples who said they were happy to determine just what made their marriages so great.
One of her biggest finds is that 99 percent of individuals she studies genuinely love and have their spouse’s best interest at heart.
What does that mean for you? It’s likely that your spouse is not intentionally trying to hurt you at any given time, including during a heated argument.
Remind yourself that your spouse loves you and wants the best for you. It means that they had good intentions and still do.
When my husband and I get into a tiff, we remember Feldhahn’s research, and one of us will say, “I am for you, not against you.” It is a gentle reminder that the problem is the problem, not each other.
2. Think: “I can only control me.”
When on the defensive, there is something primal in us that wants to control the other person to calm them down or stir them up. We say things to invoke a response or withdrawal to drive home the point of our hurt.
The military lifestyle doesn’t help. Both the serving spouse and supporting spouse can feel out of control, which makes military homes ripe for both spouses to want complete control.
The reality is that we have no control over each. Instead, what we have is influence. Our behaviors and decisions cause consequences, and that definitely influences our spouses. But ultimately you control your reactions, and he controls his.
Reminding yourself of that during marriage fighting can help you remember that you can choose not only how angry you get, but how you will respond in this moment.
Hopefully, you can choose to react in a way that brings you closer and influences him to do the same.
3. Ask, “Are we just HALT?”
When things start to get heated, ask yourself if the emotional reaction you’re experiencing matches the situation.
If not, there might be something else going on other than how your spouse said, “Good morning.”HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Good decisions are never made when we are feeling any of those things.
Sleep is always a challenge in the high operations tempo of military life. That’s why my husband and I decided a long time ago that arguments are not worth trying to resolve after 10 p.m.
Loneliness can also be a big factor for military families. When was the last time you had an honest, fulfilling conversation with a friend or got outside the house?
Loneliness can impact service members as well. If you’ve recently moved, your service member might be missing the attachment he or she had with the troops in their last unit.
If you think your spouse might be struggling with more than what’s on the surface, be sure to validate their current feelings while gently asking what else might be going on.
4. Know it might not be PTSD.
The prevalence of combat stress makes it easy for us to let it constantly take the blame for the stress in our relationships.
If your serving spouse has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or combat-related stress, symptoms of irritability and mood swings are part of your relationship.
For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can be very difficult to decipher when irritability is due to a real issue or if the symptoms are exacerbating the situation.
After providing counseling to many couples with a variety of challenges, I have found that there are always two sides to a couple’s story. In other words, most times there are legitimate feelings that are upsetting your spouse, and the PTSD is not to blame.
By labeling every conflict as PTSD or mood irritability, you might be minimizing what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.
Just as women don’t like the “it must be your hormones” comment, we must be careful not to label every irritable response as being connected to a service-related issue.
Tell yourself that this should be treated as a real and genuine concern before you label it “extreme” or a symptom.
5. Ask, “What would the 80-year-old version of me say?”
This is by far my favorite strategy for helping me gain perspective during a misunderstanding.
Lately, I have been picturing my husband and myself at 80 years old, sitting on a bench holding hands. In my mind, we are far past the petty issues, life has been full and we are full of gratitude.
When I find myself in the midst of marriage fighting and I am particularly worked up, I think about what the 80-year-old version of me would say.
Would she tell me that this battle is worth it? She has been through enough military separations to know that the smallest things that we argue about are ultimately time wasters.
I often picture the future us giggling at current us getting so worked up in the first place.
Then, when I picture 80-year-old me offering current me advice, she usually just tells me to stop making such a big fuss and kiss him already.
Eighty-year-old me is salty, wise and always has extra cookies on hand for the neighborhood kids.
Chances are, you have an 80-year-old version of you waiting to be invited into the conversation.