learn to fight?
May 11, 2005 5:49 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to argue with my wife?

I don't fight with my wife. She gets upset, says mean things, and accuses me of being withdrawn, and I feel hurt and I withdraw even more. It was suggested to me that I need to learn to fight with her. To not withdraw, but to engage. The advice was, "Your gift to her is to fight with her." (Whoa.) But how? I'm specifically looking for book recommendations, but anecdotes and advice are welcome too. I assume that most books on fighting/anger deal with toning yourself down and fighting fair. I need something about letting go and fighting less fair.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My first impulse is sympathy, my second impulse is that maybe what's best is to see a councelor together.

Third impulse - check out some jesuit classes on rhetoric/debate. These guys are the masters of pwning a debate. Essentially, they control the 'facts' in the arguement so they can never lose. It's more involved than that, but cold heartless logic (possibly based on facts which may not be true for the other person) works.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:58 PM on May 11, 2005

Dance of Intimacy and/or Dance of Anger from Harriet Lerner...she has awesome techniques for fair fighting. These books aren't just for women, although she originally wrote them with women in mind. Lots of men I know have enjoyed these. (I often lend out books and I can't ever keep a copy of these. They always disappear.)
posted by jeanmari at 6:08 PM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

No no no no... fighting less fair is a recipe for divorce.

If your wife is over the top and you're withdrawn I think PurplePorpoise it right on the money, you need to see a counselor together so you can find common ground and learn to argue effectively so you can deal with the issues instead of injuring one another.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:10 PM on May 11, 2005

What about being honest? You mention that you feel hurt. So say, "Hey! That hurts!" That's already a kind of fighting back. Even better, say "Hey! That hurts, and I'm pissed off at you for hurting me!" When you get right down to it, that's the content of a lot of fights.

It may feel strange at first. Just remind yourself that you're telling your wife the truth — you're honestly expressing the pain you're feeling, rather than clamming up and lying about your feelings by omission.

(On preview: some counseling probably couldn't hurt either.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:14 PM on May 11, 2005

I'd suggest counseling, and it probably needs to have both individual and group elements.
posted by lbergstr at 6:17 PM on May 11, 2005

Cold heartless logic never worked during arguments with my exwife. Learning to drop my perception of the issue and to understand hers was the key for me. We often discovered that we were not even fighting about the exact same thing.
posted by mischief at 6:21 PM on May 11, 2005

I'm also going to suggest counseling.

On an anecdotal level, my husband and I fight fair by making sure we use "I" statements, such as saying "I'm angry because of X and Y," as opposed to saying "You're such a butthole for doing X and Y." Plus no name calling, EVER.
posted by sugarfish at 6:33 PM on May 11, 2005

See if any of your Jewish friends are willing to let you intern at extended family dinners, etc. In my childhoom home you either argued like hell or you were eaten alive. The overwhelming majority of my Jewish friends tell similar stories. I think verbal sparring is an integral part of Jewish traditions.

Some tips:

1) Air out the dirty laundry. Whatever she accuses you of doing, she did worse. Feel free to embellish the past for added "umph".

2) Always use superlatives and generalize particulars. i.e., It's not that she wasn't there for you today -- it's that she's never there for you. She's not behaving badly -- it's the worst behavior you've ever seen.

3) Martyrize yourself. You are the victim of the relationship. You sacrifice everything to make it work. You give, she takes.

4) If she levels a levelheaded, legitimate accusation, delegitimize it by feigning astonishment and outrage.

5) Sarcasm and irony are your friend.

6) Compare her to her mother. (The ultimate weapon.)

7) Punctuate your sentences by slamming doors and (on special occasions) throwing objects at the walls.

Sadistic, yes, but also cathartic.
posted by ori at 6:35 PM on May 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

I don't think your wife wants you to argue with her, but she probably wants you to communicate with her. The problem isn't that you don't argue, but that you just clam up. Start by simply talking rationally to her. Your arguments might simmer down into discussions.
posted by MrZero at 6:35 PM on May 11, 2005

From the creators of Cudde Party, behold the Turning fights into creative arguments workshop.
posted by koenie at 6:38 PM on May 11, 2005

Learn to say "Yes dear, you are right." If that approach doesn't work, seek married couples, say for more than 25 years, and see how they work these things out. If you are one of those married for a long enough time, seek professional help. I can say "fighting back" is a bad idea. A favorite fighting technique is two ears, two eyes, one brain, one mouth, use them wisely.
posted by brent at 6:45 PM on May 11, 2005

Well withdrawing and clamming up is probably one of the worst things you can do. When couples don't even put in the effort to fight anymore, that's a really bad sign. If you care about her then you should care why she's upset--particularly if she's upset with you. You should at the very least acknowledge this as a problem and do something about it. (The underlying problem may be that you're running awaying from your problems with your wife instead of running to them.)

As for fighting techniques (heh), I'd suggest shouting. Saying something, anything, really loud. Raising your voice is a powerful self-motivator. Once you do it, and you get your adrenaline pumping, you'll be compelled to follow it up and before you know it you and your wife are having a full-fledged shouting match. A similar strategy is to pace furiously, ball your fists, stomp your feet. Anything that gets your heart pumping. Once you've gotten yourself going, you'll feel compelled to do something.

Another tactic I've seen (though it creeped me out a bit at first) is to tell your SO you need 15 minutes to really think about the problem. Then leave the room. Come back later and be prepared to discuss it and say something. Do this as many times as necessary. These time-outs do a lot to defuse particularly nasty arguments and offer the possibility of somewhat rational discussion.

(I'd avoid fighting for the sake of fighting since this quickly becomes very emotionally draining. I'd also advise against ori's various psych games, unless she's one of those women who thrive on drama. These things usually just tire you out and then you stop caring. And when you do fight, take the time to kiss and make-up.)

I don't think you need counseling. Some solid fights every now and then are perfectly natural, IMO. I must say it's pretty disturbing how quick the AskMe collective is to recommend medications and/or counselling.
posted by nixerman at 6:45 PM on May 11, 2005

Third impulse - check out some Jesuit classes on rhetoric/debate. These guys are the masters of winning a debate. Essentially, they control the 'facts' in the argument so they can never lose.

If a woman is picking a fight with you, Do Not respond with "cold heartless logic." She will probably either punch you or storm out. Just communicate. It's not that hard. Tell her what you're thinking (on preview, Loudly).

Or throw things... :)
posted by muddgirl at 6:51 PM on May 11, 2005

You, my friend, sound like you tend towards passive-aggressive. So does Mr. PT. And for the first ten years of our marriage, my reaction to his passive-aggression was to raise the level of the argument -- to bait him and harrass him -- until I finally pushed that terrible button, deep inside, that made him explode with the pent-up anger. It's so unhealthy, for both people.

I wish I could identify what changed the dynamic in our relationship, but it's been a long time. I would say that ideally, both people bend a little bit. She needs to be aware of your reaction to her actions, and you need to step away from your initial reaction to withdraw and try to identify what she's really wanting/needing from you.
posted by SashaPT at 6:57 PM on May 11, 2005

ori, that's a great (if unhelpful) list. My rhetoric professor had a similar list of "things people do to win, even when they shouldn't." The double meaning was intended.
posted by letitrain at 7:05 PM on May 11, 2005

She "gets upset, says mean things, and accuses [you] of being withdrawn" because she's trying to draw you out.

The answer isn't to throw it right back at her. At that point, you don't have a partnership, you've got a rageaholic free-for-all.

Engage her like an adult, tell her how you feel without a lot of fireworks, and don't be a shit to her by acting like your relative calm makes you superior, because it sounds like she's been trying to get you to engage for a while and she's going to need some time to chill out and adapt to a responsive mate she doesn't have to bait.

Maybe you didn't drive her to fighting with you, and so you're wondering who this harridan is that came at you with claws out the very first time you left dirty underwear on the floor; but maybe she's got another reason for acting like that that comes from something you weren't around for. So rather than going from unresponsive dude to rhetorical ninja, you should see what the middle ground nets you.

That said, if you lose your temper and fight back, it's not a big failure or anything. It's just something to work on. If you've been talking in a whisper, or not at all, it'll take a little time to learn to modulate your voice.
posted by mph at 7:09 PM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've known several people who actually enjoy fighting, your wife might be one of those people. One friend called me from her vacation to exhult over the fact that she'd finally gotten her even-tempered, rational boyfriend to snap at her. Maybe it's the drama, maybe it's that anger is a passionate emotion and she hasn't been feeling the passion lately. In any case, many posters here seem to assume that it's a terrible awful very bad thing to fight with your spouse and I don't think that's necessarily true. It just depends on the person.
posted by cali at 7:21 PM on May 11, 2005

This book may be of use.
posted by dobbs at 7:34 PM on May 11, 2005

Anon, I can totally sympathise. While my husband and I don't fight, situations come up where I find it extremely difficult to verbalise. I used to do the same exact thing - withdraw.

I have found that sending an email to mr. deborah works very well. It allows me to step back from the emotional moment, gather my thoughts and express them rationally. Plus, I can edit until I'm happy with what I want/need to say. Once I send that email to him (sometimes I just print it out rather than sending it) I find it easier to open up and discuss the situation. And, of course, it doesn't have to be an email - it can be a Word document, hand-written, whatever.

mr. deborah was quite pleased when I came up with this work-around. As it turns out, I rarely have to resort to it anymore. I've become much better at saying what I need to say.
posted by deborah at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm with ori and cali, but a counselor is needed too, especially if you never respond. I'm sure that just infuriates her and makes it worse. She never makes you want to yell back--even to say "shut up!!!!!" ?
posted by amberglow at 7:43 PM on May 11, 2005

Though it's probably not a 100% conscious effort on your part (these things never are), you know you're NOT fighting fair. You don't need to learn to fight dirty because you're using the dirtiest trick there is. You're giving off the impression that you don't give a rat's ass what she says.

This tactic works with bullies who are indiscriminate in their desire for attention, but she wants YOUR attention. Plus, she has a bond with you that the bullies lack -- what you think of her is really of great importance to her sense of self-esteem, and the impression you're putting forth is that you think nothing of her.

So you need to realize that she wants one of two things:

1.) She wants to discuss something she sees as serious issue and lacks the means to do so in a diplomatic manner. Try listening to the issue and ignore the noise.

2.) If there's no issue, the main fact of the matter is: she wants proof that you DO in fact give a rat's ass what she thinks of you. She wants to see you have an emotional response to her anger/insults. So give a shit. Stand up for yourself. If you want, yell or insult her. Or just be stubborn. Whatever.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:44 PM on May 11, 2005

counseling counseling counseling. You're not sticking up for yourself which is a sign of numerious other possible problems that can be taken care of that you havn't even noticed yet.
posted by joshgray at 8:01 PM on May 11, 2005

My exhusband and I went to a marriage councellor complaining of the exact same thing. She told us that me -- with my histrionic upbringing and him, with his cold, waspy background and a history of using alcohol and drugs to avoid feeling things -- saw arguments in radically different ways and although we could find workarounds, we would never get the same thing out of fights.

What's causing her to emotionally escalate? What are your outlets for dealing with strong emotions?

I didn't really want to fight, I wanted to be heard. So I just got louder and louder and louder, trying to feel like he was hearing what I was saying. Eventually, I didn't try to keep fighting. I just gave up on the marriage. This is more serious than being able to scream once in a while.
posted by Gucky at 8:14 PM on May 11, 2005

Yes yes YES. I am the long-term girlfriend of a clammer-upper. Saying hurtful things, saying ANYTHING, is usually done in the hope that you will spill forth whatever your deal is. Just say something. Tell her your feelings are hurt (23 skiddoo and dagnyscott and others are right on). She is probably wondering if you feel anything at all.

If you try to express yourself, she will probably meet you halfway. She knows you. She knows, except when she is upset, that you don't like to talk about Stuff. And if this doesn't go as planned, THEN it may be time to look into the counseling thing.

Communication is scary and naked and difficult. Good luck.

Now, please give me the courage to show Clammy this lovely thread.
posted by climalene at 8:14 PM on May 11, 2005

Show emotion -- anger, hurt, bewilderment, whatever you're feeling. Unfreeze yourself. She will relate to that because she is a woman. And there's power in it you can't imagine right now. Like you, I have withheld, but have learned that a bit of emotional display goes a long way, especially when it's expressed in a physical way (tears, say... Nothing violent, of course, though it's helpful to raise your voice if you're truly angry). It helps you because you release, it helps the both of you because she sees you as someone she can relate to emotionallly, and she sees that you've suffered too.
posted by rleamon at 8:33 PM on May 11, 2005

My wife and I had been married for several years before I realized that I wasn't talking honestly with her. We weren't communicating, really. I would say what I thought I should say, and she would say what she thought she should say. The unsaid truth about our feelings swelled up like a great radioactive bag of pus.

Fortunately, we broke through that. We learned to fight fair. We learned that if we held back our truest feelings, we had only ourselves to blame, and we were denying ourselves the naked intimacy of real knowledge of each other. We learned to trust each other enough to share our true selves. It was terrifying, then eventually rewarding.

Although we have had many sharp arguments and tirades in our 12 year marriage, we have been anchored by our shared belief that we are meant for each other, in tribulations as well as joys.

To me, the intimacy of being free to say exactly what we mean to each other -- without worrying about how it would seem, the freedom to shed our masks and foils and camouflages -- is in some ways more intimate than sexual penetration.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:42 PM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about some of the conflicting advice here, a little of this and that both may be of use to you. Maybe counseling, but maybe not.

I had this problem with my first partner. He was Brooklyn Italian, I'm a Michigan WASP. LOL! Nasty, mean and LOUD was the norm for arguments in his culture. This devastated me until I learned to give it back, in spades. A fist through a wall can really make a point! Fights weren't about the problem, they were the venting of the anger. The problems themselves were rather easy to deal with, once the anger had been vented.

It helps if you can learn to vent AND mind what you say. Some things should never be said. If she's hitting below the belt, perhaps you should ask her when she grew balls, with some comment about the absurdity of teats on a bull. (the right humor in a fight can REALLy defuse it!)

Sometimes, a spouse will pick a fight because of outside things. The problem isn't really what they're bitching about. What they're after is what they get from a good loud argument. There is a skill of giving what they need while forcing them to face the real problem (job stress is typical). Mind, this behavior of picking a fight is considered dysfunctional, but dysfunction is amazingly common. Your goal is to make things work with your wife as she IS.

Of course what I've said may not apply to your situation!
posted by Goofyy at 8:54 PM on May 11, 2005

Cold hearted logic is best left to other disputes. In marriage you need to discuss your feelings. If you can not tell her how you feel your marriage will fail, plain and simple. You don't have to respond to her loud anger with more of the same, and you shouldn't as that really isn't healthy for you, her or the marriage. You sound like you are not really in touch with your own feelings and that makes discussing them with your spouse all the more difficult. However, if you fail to do it you are probably dooming the relationship. Fighting fair involves telling her how you feel, sticking to the subject at hand, and respecting her feelings. Do not expect to resolve every conflict. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree and over time you will have to accommodate each other on the big issues. To do this, though, you have to actually talk about them. Do not simply retreat. However, I do think it is OK to say to her, "if you are going to yell and scream I can not talk to you, when you calm down and can discuss this I am willing to talk." This will probably instigate some more screaming at first as she will see it as merely one more ploy to avoid talking, but if you really do talk later, over time she may come to acknowledge that it is only the volume and manner of argument from which you are withdrawing. Given your extreme reluctance to engage I think this is a dangerous tactic for you to use and I would avoid it at least until you can learn to engage with her on the issues.
posted by caddis at 8:56 PM on May 11, 2005

However, I do think it is OK to say to her, "if you are going to yell and scream I can not talk to you, when you calm down and can discuss this I am willing to talk."

I don't think this is okay for everyone: as Goofyy noted, some people (often of Italian families, but whatever) need to yell and expecting them to simmer it is as silly as expecting someone who doesn't want to shout to shout. Not to mention just as unhealthy.

For some of us, shouting is one of those things that makes everything easier. I'm angry for five minutes and then it's okay. It's over and I can discuss calmly. But if I can't shout, then it just bubbles and corrodes and makes discussion passive agressive.

So I guess the first thing I would do is figure out if your wife yells because she yells or because you don't respond. Then the kind of fighting & opening up you need will become apparent.
posted by dame at 9:17 PM on May 11, 2005

I am married, and have gone through similar issues. I would personally recommend some of the work of John Gottman, whose later books especially would be useful. I would also strongly recommend Chapman's The Five Love Languages. Despite the cheesy sounding title and appearance of banality, that book actually does a very good job of pointing out that what different people need to feel loved can be completely different from person to person. Your partner may feel completely unloved even though you've been doing what works for you (but not your spouse).
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:05 PM on May 11, 2005

And ditto on some other comments: you don't need to argue better, you need to communicate better, and both of you will need to bend to do it. She "gets upset" and "says mean things". As an example, I do not generally do this; my reactions are similar to yours. However, the fact remains that no matter what the cause (you're right, you're wrong, you're calm, whatever) she is still upset and to ignore that is to essentially not care about her feelings. You may not ever feel them the same way or as strongly. Fine, but just because you're not upset doesn't mean that she shouldn't be upset. You have different styles; learn to respect that.

Don't withdraw. You don't have to "blow up" (your style may be quieter), but you need to express your feelings and (very important!) express, somehow, that her feelings are important to you. Again, withdrawing is a cop-out. Make the effort, even though it's hard.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:13 PM on May 11, 2005

Well, the most essential ingredient in an argument is disagreement. Listen carefully to what she's saying. Don't just note that she's pissed about something your mother said and then wonder what's on TV; actually parse her individual statements.

According to something some teacher told me in elementary school, all statements are either fact or opinion. If she states (what she believes to be) a fact and you think it's incorrect, say "That's wrong." Just those two (technically three) little words and you're in the game. Then all you have to do is explain what about the fact is wrong and how you know that it's wrong.

If you don't find any openings in her factual statements, you can turn to her opinion statements. Find one you disagree with and say so bluntly. She says "chocolate cake is wonderful." You say "No, I disagree. It's terrible."

If you absolutely can't find any opinions with which you disagree or any facts that you think are incorrect, then try this: Ask her "Why should I give a fuck about any of this?" She'll try to convince you that you should care and you'll have to argue (aha!) that you shouldn't.
posted by Clay201 at 11:15 PM on May 11, 2005

I'm hardly an expert, but John Gottman just might be the world's foremost expert on marital conflict; he's studied how couples fight (and other things) for decades now, and was recently featured in the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink.

They've found that how couples argue is highly predictive of whether they will stay together over the long run. In one of his books, Gottman details what he calls The Four Horsemen -- actions (especially in arguments) which are destructive to a relationship: Criticism; Contempt; Defensiveness; and Stonewalling. He has further delineated Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work, which are something like learning phases you can go through in eliminating the Four Horsemen.

(I don't want this to sound like jargon; it really isn't. Gottman is an observational social scientist, who is professionally published, but he likes to break things down for his popular books.)

One of the most important points Gottman has discovered is that there is a nearly certain predictor of a marriage's failure -- and that is when the ratio of positive and negative interactions falls below 5:1.

It was suggested to me that I need to learn to fight with her. To not withdraw, but to engage.

anonymous, you're in luck. The world's foremost marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, would agree (even if most of the posters here don't, not that I'm disputing their personal experience).

> We all know couples who fight like cats and dogs one minute, and the next seem to be happy with each other, only to go on to another unpleasant fight. Likewise, most know couples who never seem to fight, let alone discuss issues. Their relationship is always calm. Then there are those couples who talk to each other with great empathy, listening carefully to what each other says, reflecting and empathizing as they go. Which of these couples has the healthy marriage style? Which is more likely to end up in divorce? According to John Gottman, all of these couples have stable and potentially satisfying marriage patterns.

It turns out that there are three broad classes of relationship fighting styles. Note that it takes two people to have a style!

The first couple have what he calls a “volatile marriage.” They fight frequently and often with great intensity. What makes this couple different from some frequent fighters is that they actually get around to resolving their differences. A danger for volatile couples is if the bickering they engage in overwhelms the positive times.

This may be what your advisor was getting at. If you fight, it must be productive and mutually satisfying -- that is, the fighting has to have a purpose, and you have to both understand going in and coming out that there will be a compromise or other resolution.

The second couple are in the group called “avoidant.” Most people would say that avoidance is bad, but research seems to show that avoidance is actually okay sometimes. These couples are conflict minimizers, choosing to make light of their differences rather than resolving them.

It sounds like you're going avoidant, when she wants to fight. This is not a stable situation; it's a big danger sign to the Gottman team. Therefore I suggest you take this not as fate but as your chance to fix things for the long run.

The third couple fit the term “validating marriage.” This group of couples are the ones that typically get labelled as having a “perfect marriage.” Or at least it seems that way from the outside. These couples recognize conflicts, acknowledge differences openly and address them honestly and calmly before they degenerate into shouting matches.

This is definitely what you should strive for. I don't think you should choose to turn your marriage into the first type except as a last resort. If you need to change the way you fight, try instead to work toward this type of conflict resolution.

How to Stop Fighting With Your Spouse looks like an excellent distillation of the lessons Gottman promulgates.

Probably the two most important things are learning to make those I statements, as sugarfish notes (I don't like it when you ... is much better than You always ...); and making validating statements, such as I hear you saying that you don't like it when I ... and even just simple Really? Don't call up the defensiveness troops and retort I never ... or You don't understand but I was ... -- instead use those moments to open dialog such as Do you want me to ....

Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 11:22 PM on May 11, 2005

Humour works well. If you seize the moment and avoid sarcasm, you can hang her by her own petard. You're in the perfect position for this if she's upset and you're controlled.
She: "We don't have to agree on everything."
He: "Yes, we do."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:00 AM on May 12, 2005

Stonewalling is defined as "emotional shutdown and unresponsiveness in response to attempts to communicate, especially about areas of conflict" and it sounds exactly like the situation you're describing.

What you have to understand is that the bringing up of any issue is essentially a hopeful act. There's the hope of dealing with it, of coming to an agreement, of compromising, of learning where the other person stands, of being understood, of nipping something small in the bud before it grows, and above all, of resolving it. By neither acknowledging the issue nor its validity nor the potential for disagreement, clamming up nullifies such attempts. More often than not, it compounds the situation because it can be quite demoralizing to not be heard, truly heard when you are attempting to talk about something that is of importance to you to somebody who is very important to you. If you are most resistant to talking when talking is what your wife needs most for you to do, then you have to ask yourself what exactly it is you're rebelling against.

I don't think anybody ever comes into a conversation looking for a fight. No matter how much you have in common, it's impossible for two different people to agree on everything all of the time. But if you must disagree, the best way to do so is to respond thoughtfully, respectfully. Not by silently willing it to go away, and certainly not by seething. Fighting needn't be a bad thing. Ideally, it ends with resolution and a better understanding. A good fight, I think, requires a certain modicum of respect and flexibility, where both parties try to see each other's point of view as well as show why they both feel the way they do.

Considering that she's trying to, somehow, get to you (so to speak), a lot in fact does depend on your reaction.
    A list:
  • Do acknowledge the other person and what they're saying. Listen.
  • Don't respond to the manner in which the subject was broached, respond to the content.
  • Do consider the other person's arguments and points of view as valid, even if you don't understand them. Do try to understand why they take that stand.
  • Don't assume that you always know precisely what the other person means. Ask. Clarify. (As someone stated in an earlier comment, you might find that you are not even arguing about the exact same thing.)
  • Do try to make your point as clear as possible. Try to get the other person to understand you. They may not see things your way, but at least explain why you see things the way you do.
  • Don't put words in the other person's mouth. Paraphrase how you understood what was said; be humble enough to accept that how you received it may be quite different from how it was intended.
  • Do make room for being wrong, sometimes.
  • Don't play armchair psychiatrist.
  • Don't stoop to name-calling, tallying crimes, or making unfair umbrella statements that invalidate every possible thing the other person says.
  • If all else fails, agree to disagree.
  • Do maintain respect at all times. You did choose to make your life with this person for a reason.
Good luck, anon!

P.S. sacre_bleu's comment is beautiful.
posted by Lush at 4:11 AM on May 12, 2005

I would second "Dance of Anger," as well. It's written for women who are basically conditioned against getting angry or expressing any negative emotion, to teach them how to communicate effectively and that anger is OK.

It also talks about how couples overcompensate for each other -- your wife gets *really* upset, for example, because you're not getting upset at all (so the overall combined level of "upset" gets to where she thinks it should be, just that she's doing all the work). So it might help your wife to read it, too, to learn how to draw out your emotions without resorting to yelling at you.
posted by occhiblu at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2005

Are you sure you're married? When two people are married, things just come natually, and the arguements should just flow with ease.

As far as fighting with your wife, I recommend a left jab or an uppercut, they seem to work well...
posted by raster at 8:55 AM on May 12, 2005

Not to brag, but my fiance and I never fight. The only time we ever raised our voices at each other was during the first week of our relationship. We were both way too drunk. That hasn't happened since.

What we did, very early on, was that we made a rule for ourselves. We both acknowledged that neither of us enjoyed fighting and that our relationship meant way too much to us to even consider spending our time arguing with each other. The rule we made was to discuss something as soon as it occurred to us. If one of us is upset at anything, we deal with it immediately before it becomes a repeating problem that causes resentment. We don't give ourselves excuses to explode.

We wind up having several discussions every month. Some are only a few minutes, some last a couple hours. We don't plan or schedule these discussions, they just come up. Since neither of us is resentful because we never end the conversation before we can come to a compromise, we never have the same conversation twice, nor do we let it escalate into a fight later.

At first, we both felt kind of strange and awkward about initiating what could be a lengthy discussion about something that most couples would view as trivial. The discussions tended to start off with about a half hour of maneuvering and diplomacy before we could get to the core of the issue. However, with this kind of discussion becoming frequent and natural, it's become very easy to have a dialogue about the slightest thing that irks us. Not only has it become easy, but we always feel that our relationship is stronger for having discussed our problems.

That being said, I have no idea how difficult it would be to try to transition from an argumentative relationship to a discussive relationship. Since we've made discussion a pattern of behavior, neither of us thinks that the other is trying to pick a fight when the bring something up. My fear is that if you try to bring something up in order to have a civil conversation, your wife might think you're trying to pick a fight. Be very diplomatic and explain all of your thoughts and feelings before you start talking about what's bothering you. It sounds like, since she categorizes you as "withdrawn," that she'd be thrilled if you casually and calmly started bringing things up with her.

Remember, this isn't about avoiding confrontation. It's about confronting something while it's small enough to deal with it effectively. It's not nit-picking either. Little things can quickly become big problems if you sulk or resent.
Also, raising your voice causes the other person to raise theirs. Likewise, if you're totally silent, they'll yell even louder because they think they're not getting through to you. Don't be silent. Keep it at a conversation.
posted by Jon-o at 11:20 AM on May 12, 2005

Jon-o, you say some very good things. Good luck with your upcoming marriage. You're building a strong communication foundation, and that can only bring about good things for you.

I need to pick at something you implied, though. Not everything can be "dealt with" (I read that as "permanently fixed"). I've been married 15 years and my wife has some of the same complaints against me as always. Most have to do with housework, chores--typical stuff like that (plus a general unwillingness to fight, like Anonymous). At first I told her, "I'll do better." Later it was, "I'll try to do better." Now I just say, "I'm sorry." (I've had long-term complaints against her too, but we'll just talk about me here.)

I know these things bother her, but I can only do what I can do. Change is not like a switch that gets thrown and you're forever different. It's a daily effort against the flow. It's a constant push against your natural instincts. And that's exhausting.

Anyway, my point. In some cases "dealing with it" means accepting that this is the way things are going to be, and if I want to stay with this person I'll live with these things.
posted by booth at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2005

Sometimes fighting is just a test for echo. It's immature and unfair, but different people have different tolerances for it and in the end it's no less human than anything else. This woman obviously thinks there's something wrong because you don't fight back. If she's accusing you of being withdrawn, then that's what she fears most, and every single confrontation is an invitation to step forward, engage her, and show that you actually care. A fighter type hates a partner who just sits there placidly when they're on fire, upset about something. It scares them. They feel out of their depth. Like a fly buffeting a boulder. You may sputter, you may stammer, you may spit and stall, but for God's sake, let her know that you're there. If you rise to her level of anger (some would call it passion) just a few times, it might be enough to reassure her that she does actually have access to you, and that you are just as vulnerable as she is. Show her you're not an immovable rock, or worse: a passionless turd.

Here are some simple exercises:

Bust out the magic 2-letter word that starts with an "n." That's always a good place to start. Escalate to 4-letter words as necessary.

Say what you usually say, but enunciate and raise your voice.

Get in the habit of beginning every sentence with "now I'm going to say something and don't interrupt me until I'm finished."

Point your finger at her face as you speak to her.

Stand up periodically and run your fingers through your hair with a long, whistling sigh.

Walk out of the house in the middle and come home drunk.

Completely ignore something she just said and begin a totally new line of conversation.

Show her the whites of your eyes as you listen to her.

Laugh in her face when she's angriest.

When you get really good at this you'll learn when is exactly the right moment to say something like "If I drag you into the other room and fuck your brains out, will you finally shut the fuck up?" (hint: it's probably not right after employing the previous technique).

Be sure to do it after you say it.

Note that all of this is just stagecraft. You don't have to actually tear her emotional viscera out and scar her soul to fight with her. Just get out off your ass and do the dance with her. Right now you're focused on learning to dance, but the most important thing, to her, in the end, is the getting off your ass part.
posted by scarabic at 12:31 PM on May 14, 2005

« Older Running an Apple Cinema Display on PC   |   Frank Zappa Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.