last week i posted the second of the series of emails i am sending to some young friends of mine for whom i am officiating their wedding ceremony. they are getting premarital counseling from a great guy who is geographically closer than i am but i still felt like i would be remiss if i didn’t make sure a few things were covered. i’m actually 99% sure that the counselor will cover this stuff but i would rather send a useless email than not have some things covered.
anyhow, here’s the third email.
hey guys. i hope you have both had an absolutely incredible week. in my opinion the engagement period is an incredible time of relational growth. that level of commitment pushes your relationship to new levels. that pushing can be an absolutely amazing time of really defining your love for one another. it also brings with it new stresses and heightens your awareness of stresses that were already there.
and thus tonight i would like for us to talk about fighting (actually we’re not really talking at all because we are 15 hours away from each other – so basically i’m the only one talking right now but hopefully you both will read this and then talk together about this and other issues). if you both can fight well then you will find yourself way ahead of the game. couples fight. it’s a part of every relationship. it’s also usually a chance for correcting something or understanding something that has not been discussed or needs to be reconsidered. couples that don’t know how to fight usually find that they fight a lot and tear each other apart. learning to fight well is key to a wonderful marriage.
i know much of what i am about to say is going to sound unrealistic but if you consciously incorporate these things into your lives you will find they start to happen more naturally.
in my opinion the keys to fighting well are found in the following:
- fight with a goal – i know that sounds odd so i will explain. fights usually break out because one or both of you is hurt by something or feels like something is not going the way that person expects it to go (i.e. a need is perceived to not be met – emotionally, physically, sexually; an event or circumstance does proceed in the manner that one or both spouses expects; etc). the fight breaks out when one or both of you finally reaches the point of thinking “if i don’t change this it will continue to happen” or one or both of you responds in anger at being hurt. the first reason is usually why newlyweds don’t fight that much in the beginning but then start to fight more a few years down the road. some attribute the “seven year itch” to this first reason also – the mindset being “i’ve got to change things now or i’m stuck with it forever.” for whatever reason, be it emotional pain, frustration, or both, you will have fights. the goal is that you keep in mind what your ultimate goal is. i believe that when you fight you need to keep yourself focused on why the fight is really happening. it is very easy to shift gears into just wanting to win the fight or wanting to make sure the other person is hurt just as much as you are. when this happens you’ve lost focus on your goal. the goal should be to correct whatever was the source of frustration or hurt. fights can be wonderful things when the goal of relational improvement is at there focus. a fight can be the first step to correcting something that will just become worse later on. for example let’s consider money. i’m going to assume that one of you is a spender and one of you is a saver (this is actually unrealistic because most people are a combination of both, though they don’t necessarily see themselves that way). assume the spender wants to go buy something that the couple has budgeted the money for and has on hand and the saver turns on the guilt just because they would prefer to hoard the money away. this could lead to a fight the first time it happens or after years of it happening. when the fight occurs it can be a chance to work through the situation or just a time to hurt each other. when you fight always try to keep one goal in mind – i want to have the greatest marriage ever. if you fight with that goal then the fight will lead to things being made better. this also helps with making up afterwards because fighting with a goal leads to better fight endings and making up is a whole lot more fun when the fight has ended positively rather than one or both of you being hurt worse.
- fight with an aim – this is kind of the same thing as above but with a slight twist. it’s real easy during a fight to start bringing in more and more subjects. one person starts arguing because of one subject and the other person brings in an issue that has been bothering him and then the first person brings in another issue that has been bothering her. when you do that the fight isn’t really going to do anything other than release some pent up emotions. most likely nothing will be resolved as a result of a fight that has lots of different issues in it. in the movie “star wars: a new hope” there is a scene where all these pilots are attacking the death star (oh yes, you know you are experiencing fine premarital counseling when the “star wars” scenes are brought out). there are also sorts of dangerous distractions around the pilots but the lead fighter just keeps on saying “stay on target.” that target, and not the distractions, is what really matters. when you argue “stay on target” because if you “stay on target” you are much more likely to actually resolve the issue. the other issues that come up can be dealt with at another time (i usually say give it a day – in fact i would suggest that you literally set a day and time to discuss each issue that’s brought up in a fight). when you “stay on target” and resolve the issue the fight was about you have stepped a little closer to the marriage you want, and of course, it’s easier to make up after a successful fight.
- fight fair – you both know each other pretty well already and you will get to know each other better and better as the years go by. you will know what brings each other the most joy and you will know where each other are the most tender. that’s what makes it so easy to hurt the person you love – you know where they will hurt the worse. in a fight it becomes real easy to move from trying to correct a situation to just trying to win. you stop listening and just start thinking of what to say next . this is bad enough when friends fight but it is 10 worse when a married couple fights because they each know exactly how to slit each other throats. resist with all you are worth the temptation to “go for the juggler.” talk slowly while you are arguing so that you can make sure and not say the thing that will hurt your spouse the most. this goes against human nature but then again so does selflessness. when you agree to be one you are saying that you will put the other person in front of yourself. this is just as true in an argument as it is in any other part of your marriage. i don’t mean that you should “roll over” during a fight. remember the point of a fight should be to resolve an issue. i do mean however that you should never, ever, ever attack your partner’s weak points just to win the battle. this also means that you never go to the past to bring up those most painful memories that have already been dealt with. you are not enemies in a fight (enemies wish to defeat each other). you are partners who are working out a problem. if you fight fair you both will leave an argument whole, and of course, making up after a fight is much better when neither spouse has been emotionally mortally wounded by the other.
- fight knowingly – most likely you each have different methods of communication. in an argument one of you probably emotionally shuts down while the other is looking for as much communication as possible (i’m just guessing here). if this is true what usually happens in a fight is that one person clams up while the other one just keeps saying “will you please talk to me.” or possibly one of you is a shouter while the other person just needs to escape for awhile. whatever your normal means of dealing with conflict you both need to know and understands how each other reacts. you then need to respect how each other deals with conflict. for example you might find yourself sounding like the following – “is everything okay because you seem mad?” “i’m fine” “no i can tell something’s wrong because of your tone.” ” i don’t have a tone and i’m fine.” “no something is definitely bothering you because you’re being short with me.” “I’M FINE!” you could translate this conversation as “i need you to tell me what’s wrong” and “i need time to think through things.” if you both learn how each other handles conflict you’ll go far down the path of solving the issues that you are arguing about. the person who clams up needs to recognize the other person’s need for communication and fight against their normal default and communicate just enough to meet the basic needs of the partner who is desperate for communication. the person who needs communication needs to understand the other spouse’s need to think through things before talking and therefore not press for more immediate information after the “clamer” has sacrificially given up some basic communication. if you know how each other fights you’ll be communicating better and by communicating better you will solve more issues, and of course, making up after a fight is much better when you have both communicated in a manner that each other understands.
email is the worst possible way for covering how to fight and therefore i am thankful that you will be meeting with frank, i’m sure he will cover it. there are some wonderful communication techniques that will help you to turn your fights into things that really help your marriage. all i’ve tried to do above is to cover a few basics.
now if we were meeting together i would give you some homework to do during the week. we’re not meeting but i figure i’ll still give you a little homework. so here it is, go out to dinner somewhere and do the following:
- talk about a fight you have had recently and honestly talk about what you think you may have failed at and succeded at in that fight (deal with you own issues rather than your spouses).
- talk about how you each deal with conflict and the bare minimum response that you need from each other in an argument (i.e. for the “talker” how little information will meet you need until the “clamer” has had a chance to think through things? for the “clamer” how much time do you need to think through things before the “talker” can expect some conversation?)
- talk about the things that would hurt you the most within a fight.
- talk about your experience with your parents’ fights. what have you learned from them for the good and the bad?
if we were meeting together i would actually have you fake a fight and we would talk through it (interestingly enough this once turned into a full blown fight right in front of me – made for an interesting hour) but of course we can’t do that 15 hours apart.