Should you schedule your couple arguments?
Should you schedule your couple conflicts, arguments or disagreements by picking a time on the calendar to process your latest issues? In other words, hold off until the appointed time on the schedule and limit the argument to an hour or so and then try to work your way through your list. I know, it sounds crazy! Who really does that? Yet a recent article in the Atlantic describes a couple who do just that and report that it has transformed their marriage. Before you dismiss the article as crazy consider the following points:
- Most couples do conflict poorly!
- They either rapidly escalate or,
- Avoid conflict so it goes underground and stay clear of complicated issues.
- Both styles kill intimacy.
- Too often conflict starts “hot” due to being in a state of high anxiety or agitation. When conflict starts “hot” nothing good will come from it. In fact, John Gottman’s research states that when conflict starts hot it rarely goes well.
- Most couples do not make effective emotional repair after one of their intense “discussions”.
- Anyone who has been married for a while knows it is never helpful to share everything that they are feeling until they have thought about it for a while. Catharsis is overrated. Better to think it through before blurting it out in a moment of intense frustration.
- Expressing anger that is uncensored just creates more anger.
- And finally arguments that start late at night, or involve alcohol will never go well!!
In reality, most people would agree with these points. Yet, despite their intellectual assent to these principles, very little changes in the way they handle conflict.
So, clearly, we need healthy ways to process conflict, since all relationships have conflict, and the avoidance of healthy conflict will always result in the death of intimacy.
While most couples are not ready to schedule their arguments, at the very least try to utilize these principles:
- Try to avoid starting an argument when you are overtired, overly anxious or very agitated. It will never go well! Remember, anxiety makes us dumb and emotionally reactive. When we give into blurting it all out, we will spend too much time attempting to clean it up and do damage control.
- This necessitates knowing where you are emotionally. If you feel “hijacked” or overly anxious, hold off on expressing the conflict and attempt to think through what you really want to express.
- Once you have thought about what you want to “share” follow these guidelines:
- Start soft (not when you are angry or hijacked) by saying something positive and avoid making black and white statements like “you always” or “you never”. Never begin with an attack!
- State what you are feeling in concrete descriptive terms: “When you are watching TV while I’m trying to read to the kids and get them to bed by myself, I’m left hurt and frustrated and feel very alone.”
- Ask for what you want in specific terms. Don’t make global statements such as “I have to do everything” or “you are totally self centered”. Make it specific such as, “it would help if you read to one of the kids every night, while I tuck the other one in.”
- Finally, the person who initiates the conversation (conflict) takes responsibility to keep it on track and not let it escalate. (“I’m not saying you are a terrible father/mother. You do so many things well; I’m asking for several specific changes.”)
- Always make sure there is emotional repair. Gottman’s research on healthy couples says this is essential. Healthy couples always come back to the issue by checking in to see if the other is ok.
Obviously, this takes some discipline and none of us find this easy. However, learning to do conflict well reaps huge dividends, and results in improved emotional intimacy. It’s well worth the work. Just as any skilled musician or athlete puts in multiple hours practicing their craft, healthy couples spend significant time growing together in learning to do conflict well!
Learning these skills is hard work. If you need help or coaching, contact one of our relationship experts at Samaritan!