Many couples try to find a solution to their problems, when in fact, many problems can’t be solved. How much time should you spend with your in-laws? How should you spend your money? Who makes the bed? These arguments will happen over and over. One of my goals for my happiness project, therefore, is to have arguments with my husband that are productive and loving, not exhausting, unpleasant, and pointless. I can’t say that I’ve completely conquered my worst inclinations, but I’m trying to follow these strategies, in order to fight right:
1. Make jokes. This is hard, but extremely effective. For example, seemingly out of pure cussedness, my husband often refuses to give me information – silly things, like what time a movie starts . It drives me crazy. The last time he did it, I managed to say, “Are you in the C.I.A? Why is everything around here on a need-to-know basis?” He laughed, I laughed, and I felt a lot better. He hasn’t changed his behavior, but I’ve lightened up about it.
2. Make “repair attempts.” During a fight, make gestures to keep things from getting too ugly. Laugh; throw in a conciliatory comment like, “I know what you’re talking about,” “I see what you mean,” or “I’m trying to do better”; admit where you’re wrong, and most important – I have to remind myself of this often – let the fight end. Let it go. Have the discussion, then change the subject.
3. Take a break. Marriage expert John Gottman recommends a twenty-minute recess if an argument gets too heated. This strategy works well, but it’s tough to think to do it when you’re in the midst of a fight. Sometimes it happens by chance, when the phone rings or the dog throws up.
4. Throw money at the problem. Hiring a teenager to mow the lawn, buying prepared food, or getting a babysitter once a week might eliminate a source of friction. Harmony in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so if you can afford it, this is a place to spend money if it might help.
5. Hug and kiss. One of the things I appreciate most about my husband is that he hugs and kisses me frequently: he puts his arm around me when we’re at a party, he gives me a good-bye morning kiss, a hello kiss each evening, and a good-night kiss. This goes a long way – especially during an argument, when a quick hug or even a touch can transform the mood. Fun fact: to optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, hold your hug for at least six seconds.
Have you found any good strategies to fight right with your sweetheart?
The days are long, but the years are short.