Communicate with your spouse: During an argument.

In continuing with our mini-series on how to communicate with your spouse, this weeks installment is about navigating this tough communication road block: an argument.  Now, the idea of communicating with your spouse during an argument is a bit misleading because in truth you can’t! Effective arguing or “fighting fair” is something you occasionally hear as a solution to couples fighting.  In reality, effective arguing is an oxymoron.

communicate with your spouse
Don’t even try to communicate in this state. Instead, walk away, calm down and come back later.

When arguments are heated and tempers are flaring your brain, under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) is actually incapable of making rational decisions.  The parts of your brain responsible for rational thinking and problem solving (the cortex) take a back seat to the lower, more primitive part of your brain, (you know, the old fight or flight part) the limbic system.  The limbic system, also know as the emotional center of your brain is not designed for calm, logical thought, you are better off putting the conversation in park until you can reactivate the cortex. Continue reading Communicate with your spouse: During an argument.

Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

What is a healthy marriage?  This is an important question to answer in light of all the information we see and read (including on this blog) about a “healthy marriage.”  Benefits touted often include, better physical health, less depression, better outcomes for children and so much more.  How wonderful these benefits are, so how can we know what a healthy marriage is and how to achieve that standard in our own lives?

healthy marriage

Research done on this topic (see Moore et al., 2004, and NHMRC website resulted in this list…

• commitment to each other over the long haul
• positive communication
• ability to resolve disagreements and handle conflicts nonviolently
• emotional and physical safety in interaction
• sexual and psychological fidelity
• mutual respect
• spending enjoyable time together
• providing emotional support and companionship
• parents’ mutual commitment to their children

Let’s take a look at these one by one… Continue reading Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

Want to stop fighting before it happens? Have a snack.

Want to stop fighting with your spouse?  Maybe low blood sugar is a factor. Remember that snickers commercial where the guy at the party is grouchy and disgruntled, his wing man comes over and offers him a snickers and after the first bite he is transformed into a charming and friendly guy?  It’s a silly idea, often referred to as being “hangry” and while anecdotal information abounds on this topic, turns out there is truth to the idea that low blood sugar can result in higher incidents of aggression in a marriage.  In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Brad Bushman gave 107 married couples voodoo dolls to represent their spouse, blood glucose levels were measured and participants were then asked to put pins in the dolls.  The end result…the lower the blood sugar, the more pins stuck in the dolls. So what is this really about? Will low blood sugar cause more arguments? Continue reading Want to stop fighting before it happens? Have a snack.

Is it OK for kids to see parents fighting?

Common wisdom holds that it is not good for children to see their parents fighting.  Witnessing marital conflict sets a bad example for young minds and reduces a child’s respect for his parents. Yet psychologists are divided about this subject. While all agree that witnessing abuse is damaging for any child, what about the occasional argument? Is it ever okay to have a disagreement in front of the kids?

Proponents of exposing kids to parents fighting argue that conflict is a part of life and hiding it from children does them a disservice. Children not exposed to conflict may grow up with an unrealistic view of human relationships and unprepared for the chaos of social life. Letting kids watch a marital spat shows them that it is possible to have disagreements and still love the people close to you. Witnessing arguments is also an opportunity to model healthy conflict resolution habits

.parents fighting

Professor Mark Cummings of Notre Dame University and his team have conducted several studies on children’s reactions to parents fighting. One study followed 235 families over the course of 7 years. At the beginning of the study researchers asked parents and their young children about conflict in the home and recorded indicators of emotional health. They then asked parents to discuss a touchy topic while recording how aggressively the couples argued. They followed up with surveys of the children and parents seven years later when the children were adolescents. Predictably, children from high conflict homes were less emotionally secure and more likely to act out than their peers. Continue reading Is it OK for kids to see parents fighting?

5 signs of emotional abuse

A tragically high number of people will suffer abuse at the hands of an intimate partner – conservative estimates claim that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The real numbers are impossible to calculate since most instances of abuse are never reported.

Often education on abusive behavior focuses primarily on physical abuse. In fact, there are several different kinds of abuse that don’t leave physical scars, but are just as serious and dangerous as domestic violence. Often psychological and emotional abuse are the precursors to physical violence.

Familiarize yourself with these signs of emotional abuse so you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Continue reading 5 signs of emotional abuse

Tips for dealing with difficult people

Dealing with difficult people is something we all have to face. Luckily, many of the skills we us to make our marriages run smoothly and diffuse tension can also be used for dealing with difficult people. Here are the top 5 Power of Two golden rules for conflict and communication in marriage that will help you in any situation, whether at work, with friends, or family members.

  1. Remember: it’s not about you. Only we control our emotions–no one can “make” someone else angry, upset, or irritated. So while you may have made a mistake that was regrettable and caused problems (and if so, recognize and acknowledge it), if someone becomes angry, guilts you, or treats you poorly, that is their problem. If they are angry, that is their problem.  Continue reading Tips for dealing with difficult people

Help a friend escape domestic violence

Avon and British non-profit Refuge are joining together to launch an awareness drive for domestic violence. An astonishing one in four women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime. “Sadly, we all probably know someone this is happening to right now,” explains the narrator in their Youtube video campaign.

Abusive situations are often difficult to get out of since one of the first steps of abuse is to break down the victim’s independence and self-esteem. Support from friends and loved ones can be the ticket to pulling a woman out of a violent relationship. Unfortunately, without the right information you may not pick up on the signs of domestic violence and unknowingly say things that actually discourage her from seeking help.

This beautiful “choose your own adventure”-style video series guides you through how to respond to and support a friend who may be reaching out from such a situation. Scroll below for the cheat sheet. Please watch and share! Continue reading Help a friend escape domestic violence

Best articles of the week: Help for an unhappy marriage

Unexpected conflicts, anger, illness and change…some marriages have a lot to deal with. This week I’m featuring the best articles I’ve read recently on overcoming various causes of an unhappy marriage. We’ve got everything from new studies on emotion regulation to a blog dedicated to helping spouses with chronic illness. I hope you find the articles as interesting as I did!

Did Scientology Destroy Tom and Katie’s Marriage? via the Daily Beast

The biggest news of the past week has to be the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce. Gossip abounds about their unhappy marriage and Scientology’s potential role in their break up. This article from the Daily Beast is the most well-written one I’ve read about the split. It poses lots of interesting questions and delves into important issues. The conclusion: this is one marriage with very valid reasons for divorce.

Showing Fake Love Leads to Real Romance, via Jagran Post

Not that you should fake emotions, especially during an unhappy marriage. At the same time, we fall into patterns of being out of love that involve body language cues like eye rolling or turning away when we speak to our spouses. These reinforce our negative feelings about our partner. This British study shows that you can put the spark back in your relationship by using the body first and the mind will follow. Take the effort to make loving gestures, even if you don’t geel all the way there yet, can help you redirect the negative emotions into positive and eventually loving ones.

Self-Distancing May Help Deal with Anger, via Counsel & Heal

Anger and negativity is the cause of many an unhappy marriage. Counsel and Heal provides advice from two new studies on regulating emotion with self-distancing. Self-distancing is the practice of removing yourself mentally from the emotional situation–imagining it objectively as if it were happening to someone else. “The self-distancing approach helped people regulate their angry feelings and also reduced their aggressive thoughts,” say the researchers of one study.

Warning: Your Spouse Has Changed! via Alisa Bowman

Alisa offers a thoughtful and smart response to a reader who laments “My wife is just not the person I married 14 years ago.” Life is change. You will change, your spouse will change, your world will change–and it won’t change back. “Forget about who your spouse used to be,” Alisa writes. “Think about who you need your spouse to become. Then think about how you might change to enable that spouse to follow your lead.” A great, philosophical read.

Beyond the Fairy Tale, via Chronic Marriage

Helena Madsen runs the Chronic Marriage blog to provide support and advice to marriages where a spouse is dealing with a chronic illness. In this introductory post she outlines the qualities of maturity couples need to survive and thrive in a chronic disease situation. I look forward to reading more from Helena!


Help for an unhappy marriage is out there
You can change an unhappy marriage–don’t be afraid to get help

The I Love Lucy guide to a happy marriage

Here’s a witty compilation from a Youtube poster, a tongue-in-cheek look at advice for a happy marriage from I Love Lucy. The areas of advice are (1) discuss things kindly, (2) never lose you temper, (3) listen to your partner, (4) be honest, (5) be considerate, (6) appreciate your spouse’s work, and (7) never let the flame go cold. Sounds like good advice to me! Of course, when it comes to Lucille and Desi, nothing is that simple. This is one of the most well-known and popular couples in pop culture history. What do you think: do they have a good marriage?

It’s interesting to see the differences in the accepted roles of man and wife 50 years ago versus today. Desi is in control of the finances; Lucy gets an allowance from him. Lucy doesn’t work and is portrayed as a relatively childish, trouble-making girl who is always causing disasters. The two have separate beds! The spouses are constantly playing games with each other in an endless loop of give and take. They insult each other openly. Desi appears to physically threaten Lucy many times, although they never have any violent moments.

When I really think about it, much of the marriages portrayed in the show are disturbing. So what makes them so funny and enjoyable at the same time?

What I like about I Love Lucy, when I get past the sexist faux-pas, is that Lucy is feisty and independent and Desi is infinitely patient. They seem like equals. And they always manage to resolve their problems in a loving and forgiving manner. There’s a lot of passion and understanding between them and they do seem to have a happy marriage.

There’s always danger analyzing something meant to be funny in a serious way because, after all, comedy works by exaggerating normal behavior. Still, it’s fodder for some interesting conversation. So check out this clip and chime in. What rubs you the wrong way about their relationship? What do you like? Is this still, or was it ever, a good model for a happy marriage?

How to fight fair

Today I wanted to explore Dr. King’s sayings on protest in terms of how to fight fair with your spouse. This is the second of 3 posts celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King and kicking off Black History Month in February.

2.  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” ~MLK

2011 was a year of protests, from Egypt to the Occupation of towns across America. Many of these protests involved thousands of peaceful, non-violent protestors. At the same time, many of them also devolved into violence. Watching the Occupy Oakland protestors next door to my home town, Alameda, I saw first hand how similar this conflict was to how argument escalates in a marriage. It reminded me of how important it is to learn how to fight fair and carry Dr. King’s words in our hearts.

It started out peacefully enough with one side–the “people”–stating their opinion and displeasure at their relationship with the other side–the government. At first side #1 received  non-response from the other side (the Mayor’s office). So they continued with their complaint. With no dialog occurring between the two sides, each became more and more worked up and entrenched in their different opinions. After becoming increasingly frustrated with the protesters and unsure of what to do, side #2 lashed out with frustration at side #1. Both sides ended up exploding at each other with terrible violence. When the smoke cleared, both were hurt, embarrassed, and more alienated from each other than before, and nothing productive had come out of the encounter.

Both the Occupy protesters, the government, and our marriages can benefit from learning how to fight fair. Only mutual love and respect can solve a dispute between two parties–screaming louder to drown out the shouts of the other side will not convince them that you are right. Here’s how to win a fight with love. This is how to fight fair.

1. Love means...being truly interested in your spouse’s point of view and hearing her opinion.

Realize that both of you have important view points to contribute the issue. If you respect your spouse, you will respect their needs and desires reflected in their opinions. Being negative or dismissive about things that are important to your spouse will lead to serious marriage problems.

2. Love means…willing to work together until you find a win-win solution.

Try to get to the root causes of your opinions instead of focusing on opposing solutions. For example, you want to go biking but your spouse wants to watch a movie. Two opposing ideas, right? Well what if your underlying reason is that you want to get out of the house, and your spouse’s reason is that she has been on her feet all day and wants to rest. Now you can find a new solution that addresses both your desires. Why not go for a car ride–you get out of the house, and she can stay seated. Win-win!

3. Love means…knowing where your anger limits are and working around them.

Everyone has hot spots that get them from calm to raging in 2 seconds. Know what gets you riled and will push you away from how to fight fair. At these times practice Exit and Re-enter strategy: leave the room to cool down and return once you’re calm.

4. Love means…being on the same team.

If you treat your partner with love, you will realize that you are always on the same team. You are both working together on how to make a relationship last long, healthy and happy for yourselves and your children. Likewise, the citizen and the government are really working towards the same goal: to have a safe, supportive, and respectful relationship, and to create a great country. Maybe marriage skills and conflict resolution should be required teaching in high school civics classes!