Who had parents that would fight every once in a while growing up? I mean, probably just about everyone, right?
When I was growing up, I hated when my parents would fight. I hated when anyone would fight, including myself! It just didn’t feel good.
I decided at a young age that when I got married, I didn’t want to have fights. This is what initially got me into studying marriage and family. I would go to the library and read relationship books to try to figure out how to create a perfect relationship, and eventually I changed my major and got a college education with the same pursuit!
What did I learn? A perfect marriage doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean marriage can’t be wonderful! Just because you fight doesn’t mean that you have a terrible relationship! Fighting, disagreeing, arguing, these things are NORMAL.
While it’s always a good idea to try to reduce what Gottman has tagged as “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” for your marriage (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling/cold shoulder), I personally believe that a huge determining factor of the strength of a relationship happens after a fight.
That’s why I’m sharing the exact 3 step process I use to win all of my fights with David! This is an accumulation of a lot of trial and error, observation, and wisdom that I’ve gathered from professors and my studies over the years. So, let’s get started!
Step 1. Give yourself a minute to chill out!
Honestly, sometimes I don’t even know what I’m upset about! I need a minute to look inside myself and figure out why I feel hurt and what’s going on underneath all the layers. Was I really upset about beard trimmings on the counter in the bathroom or was it something deeper?
During my chill out time, I usually prepare an explanation statement. This is what I use to concisely explain what was going on inside to help the other person understand why I reacted the way I did. The explanation statement can be useful to feel understood, get needed reassurance, and open up a discussion for what you can do to avoid similar triggers in the future. I’ve found that it is not always necessary to share my explanation statement, sometimes having that understanding for myself is enough.
I try to keep my explanation statements condensed into one sentence. Here are some examples: “When you wanted to spend time with your friends tonight, it made me feel like you didn’t love me as much as you love them.” or “I felt a lot of pressure when you were expecting me to plan what we did today and I got frustrated.”
Usually, when I have a clear understanding about what upset me, I can see where some irrational thinking kicked in and where I may have over reacted a bit. At this time, it’s easier for me to have a calm conversation with my husband about the fight.
(pro tip: let your spouse know that you need some time to calm down/chill out so it doesn’t look like you’re ignoring or avoiding the situation)
Step 2. Apologize
Most of the time, it won’t feel like it was your fault. Like, at all. After all, he was the one who hurt my feelings! Or she was the one who started it! Right?!
But here’s the thing: a fight is never just one person’s fault. Ever. It takes two to tango, two to escalate the situation, two to have a fight. This means there is always something to apologize for, even if it is just for something small. (please note: there’s an important distinction between a fight and being bullied or abused. Learn about the difference here).
Figure out what part you played to fuel the fire, maybe you said something hurtful, maybe you let yourself get angry, maybe you didn’t listen. A lot of times, I simply apologize for “being poopy” because that’s the best way I can summarize how I acted! Make sure your apology is sincere and that you genuinely feel motivated to do better in the future.
Also, don’t be afraid to be the first to apologize! Be brave! Make that first step to having peace again, I promise it will be worth it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets!
Step 3. Forgive
Don’t rob your marriage of joy by carrying around a giant, heavy, smelly bag of all the crap your spouse has done! Let. It. Go.
But what if he doesn’t apologize to me? Well, sometimes you’ll get an apology in return, sometimes you won’t. Forgive anyway.
The truth is, nobody is perfect. We all make an endless stream of mistakes. I bet you wouldn’t want someone with a remarkably perfect memory to read back every single mistake you’ve made – I know I don’t! So don’t do it to others! But especially don’t do it to the person you love the most.
If you struggle with forgiveness, I highly encourage you to talk to your Father in heaven, who is a pro at forgiveness, and ask Him to teach you a thing or two about it. He will help you increase your capacity to forgive and learn that forgiveness is the path to healing.
That’s how you win!
So here’s a quick review: First, take time to chill out and figure out what you feel and why. Next, sincerely apologize and, if you feel it is needed, share your explanation statement. Then forgive and move on with a clean slate.
In a beautiful, remarkable way, every time I follow this process, I feel even more love for David than I did before! When we apologize, talk it out, and forgive, we grow closer together; we strengthen our marriage. And THAT’S how you REALLY win a fight.
You see, in marriage, you only truly win when you win together (say that 3 times fast). The real fight isn’t the fight between the two of you, the real fight is against the fight itself; against anything that comes in between your marriage! Don’t let the fight win! Tell that fight to get lost! Show it that nothing, I repeat NOTHING is going to get in the way of your strong, healthy, loving marriage that you have dreamed about and worked for since you were a kid!
Fight for your marriage and you will win every time.