Keep Your Marriage Stronger by Fighting Smarter

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

It’s hard to feel loving and romantic when you and your partner spend too much time arguing. Today’s post has strategies for reducing arguments and keeping hostility levels in check.

All marriages have scarce resources, so it isn’t shocking that clever financial experts would write a book using economic theories to help relationships. There were several theories and tips from Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes by Paula Schuchman and Jenny Anderson that I found interesting and worth sharing.

One such theory is loss aversion, which means that we are much more inclined to avoid losses than to acquire gains. It’s why we have such a hard time selling a stock while it’s tanking; we are so focused on how to avoid or make up the loss that we don’t always act rationally.

Many of us act similarly during an argument. The authors explain, “When loss aversion kicks in, you’re liable to stay up all night arguing because you don’t want to lose a fight. You’ll refuse to compromise because it means giving up what you want. You won’t apologize because you don’t want to lose face. And you’ll fail to appreciate the good stuff in front of you because all you can think about is how much more fun married life used to be.”

This is why I’ve long disagreed with the advice, “Never go to bed angry.” Sometimes, the very best thing to do is to take a break or go to bed, sleep on it, let the wind in the sails of your arguments die down, let the anger dissipate, and discuss again when you’re on better terms. This strategy has helped me in my marriage.

One wife interviewed for Spousonomics implemented a simple change after the hundredth late-night fight with her husband that didn’t accomplish anything. During their arguments, each would become more confident in their “rightness” and less able to compromise or hear one another out. She realized she often brought up petty or unnecessary items then fought to the death (while her husband defended himself). So, she implemented a 24-hour rule, meaning she would keep a complaint or a negative comment to herself for 24 hours to determine if it was still important enough to bring up a day later. If she was not still upset about the matter, she would drop it. If she was still very bothered by it, she would choose an appropriate time and approach to deal with it.

You might stop there and say, “Why should I bite my tongue when something is bothering me?” The 24-hour rule doesn’t mean we are bottling up our feelings and emotions, but rather that we realize not all arguments are necessary for a better marriage, and not all issues need to be addressed and solved immediately.

The couple who implemented the new rule found it was very helpful. The first time the wife tried it, she was extremely mad at her husband for forgetting something, but held off on complaining. Within the 24 hours, he remembered, apologized and made it right. She realized that the argument they would have had was completely unnecessary and would have caused much more harm than good. Instead, she gave her husband the opportunity to make something right without her complaining or nagging.  A few months after she implemented the 24-hour rule, the wife reported that the frequency and intensity of their arguments were greatly diminished.

Other argument-derailing ideas from the book:

  1. Each person can call a time-out when they need one.
  2. That person has to set a time limit of no more than one day.
  3. Both people have to spend that time thinking about what in the disagreement led to anger. Rather than blaming the other, they are to ask why they responded in the way they did. 

That last suggestion is an interesting idea that I’ve never attempted. I’m usually too focused on getting my points across or hearing my husband’s feedback to think about why we reacted the way we did. But the tone could really change if we admitted, for instance, that the issue brings up certain fears or concerns and that’s why it upset us so much.

I’ll share other concepts from the book in later posts, for example using comparative advantage to more effectively divide household chores, and how to use incentives to improve your sex lives.

What strategies do you have in place to keep an argument from escalating?

LINKS:
How to endlessly pursue your partner, by Journey to Surrender.

Guys, read this helpful post from Simple Marriage called Five Ways to Ignite Your Wife’s Passions.

As a follow up to Wednesday’s post, is the Royal Wedding creating unrealistically lavish expectations for more brides? Read How Kate Middleton and Prince William could hurt marriage in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

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