If you think avoiding arguments is the key to a happy marriage, most experts would say you’re wrong. “I actually don’t believe in avoiding conflict,” says Dr. Wendy Walsh, author of The 30-Day Love Detox and host of Discovery Network’s “Happily NEVER After”. “I’m all about how to make healthy repair. Anger happens, and people who love each other bark sometimes, but they also have wonderful make-up behaviors. Sometimes, little conflict means little intimacy.”
Dr. Terri Orbach, Ph.D., project manager of a NIH-funded long-term study on marriage, agrees. Her study, which has followed a group of couples for 28 years, has found that the couples who don’t have disagreements have not fared as well in marriage. “Four couples in the study that said they never had disagreements in year one, were no longer together in year three,” Dr. Orbach says. “One of the things I tell married couples is that marital spats, conflict, disagreements, are typical. It’s how you communicate and resolve them that’s important.”
So what’s the best way to have an argument? Follow these expert tips.
1. Time it right.
“Try not to bring up touchy subjects when you are in a HALT mode (Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired),” says Dr. Walsh. Though most couples tend to bring up important topics right before bed, don’t. Instead pick a time when you are both well-rested and not under a time constraint or stress.
2. Use “I” statements not “you” statements.
When arguing with your spouse, talk about how you feel as in, “I feel overwhelmed when I have so much to do around the house,” as opposed to pointing fingers at your spouse with statements like, “You never help around the house.” “You” statements make your spouse feel attacked and shut down the lines of communication, while “I” statements are less threatening and keep the dialogue going.
3. Go to bed angry.
“As time passes in a relationship, you understand that you will figure it out tomorrow,” says Dr. Orbach, who’s known as The Love Doctor. “Whatever you were arguing about isn’t the be-all end-all.” Staying up all night to sort something out just doesn’t work.”When you’re irritated and upset your brain waves change and you’re not as rational and able to process things. It takes at least 30 minutes for brainwaves to go back to normal according to brain research,” she says. The overnight gives you perspective and allows you to calm down and remember how to fight fair. So go to bed mad, and talk about it tomorrow.
When a marriage is just starting out disagreements can seem like marriage breakers—both of you are fighting for turf. “But over time, as you’ve been together longer, you have a bigger picture which is a long-term focus,” says Dr. Orbach. “Winning and being right is less important to who we are.” If you’ve done something hurtful to your partner or behaved in a way that was unkind, own up to it. And when apologizing, stay away from “Yes, but” statements, as in “Yes, I was wrong, but you’re to blame, too.” “Using ‘but’ takes away from the sincerity of the apology,” Dr. Orbach says. Instead, take full responsibility and focus on your own actions.
5. Watch your stress level.
One way to not make spats as intense or last as long is to lower your stress. “When we are stressed, things bother us more and accumulate more,” says Dr. Orbach. “That means we’re going to fight more and the fight will be more intense.” Pay attention to your own stress levels, and lower your stress by exercising, deep breathing, yoga or other techniques that calm you.
6. Diffuse with humor.
Humor can cut the tension and make it more difficult to argue or stay mad at each other. “The key is knowing your partner’s sensitivities and making sure that you’re not making it worse with the kind of humor you’re using,” says Dr. Orbach. If you have humor topics or words that make both of you laugh, go for it. Otherwise, if you’re not sure how it will go over, sidestep it, since it could make it worse.