My husband was listening to a friend whose marriage was on the rocks. He described his wife’s style of arguing: “When she begins to feel like she’s losing ground, she’ll throw a ‘bomb’—some major accusation or fact that she knows will shock or hurt me to the core—to regain control,” he said. “But I just shut down. I’m usually too hurt or angry to hear anything else she has to say.”
Married couples are going to have times of conflict—that much is a given. But how each partner chooses to debate the hot-button issues can be the difference between finding a reasonable compromise or solution, or blowing a small disagreement up into a marriage melt-down. Here are some of the counterproductive types of fighting you want to avoid with your spouse.
1. The Bomb-Thrower.
The bomb-thrower uses shock value to shut down her spouse and gain the upper hand in an argument. She may use favorite standbys like threatening divorce when things aren’t going her way. Of course, she doesn’t really want a divorce, but if the threat of it gets her husband to back off about money, honesty or whatever else he may be upset about, she’s willing to do it. Sometimes bomb-throwers hurl an accusation which they know will be extremely hurtful, such as ‘you’re just like your father,’ when they know this is his greatest fear. The problem is that threats and insults this severe inflict damage to the relationship that remains long after the disagreement is over. Stick to the issues and possible solutions, and put the bombs away.
2. The Historian.
The historian is never going to let anyone forget their failures, and she loves to recite her spouse’s past misdeeds when conflict arises. It’s her way of saying, “What I’ve done to disappoint or anger you doesn’t matter because you did something just as bad…ten years ago.” The problem is that such recitations are the exact opposite of what forgiveness looks like, and no one—the historian included—wants to be shackled to every failure of their past indefinitely. People always come to resent the historian and often pull away from her emotionally.
3. The Martyr.
The martyr loves to position herself as the suffering saint who constantly takes hits for the “team.” (“No, I don’t mind if you play golf today. I’ll just stay here and change 12 more dirty diapers and do laundry. No, really, you go and have a good time.”) There are varying degrees of martyrdom, but almost all of them instill more resentment of the martyr than compassion for her. In short: it’s maddening. It’s far more productive—and less manipulative—to verbalize what you really feel or need in a more straight-forward, grown-up way. Instead of trying to instill guilt with passive-aggressive comments, say what you mean, and mean what you say.
4. Old Yeller.
Nope, not the dog. We’re talking about the married person who can’t seem to talk through sensitive or conflict-oriented issues without yelling at his or her spouse. Yellers, whether they realize it or not, are attempting to intimidate others by being loudest. (I mean, really—what are we? Cave men?) A yeller uses volume much like a bomb-thrower uses incendiary statements—to get the upper hand. It’s childish, it’s counter-productive, and it’s a horrible example for your children of how to speak to someone with respect.