I hear a lot of bad advice about what makes a good relationship.
People say things like:
“happy couples don’t fight”
“you should have sex at least once a week when you’re married – minimum”
“buying her flowers will fix anything”
That is all bullshit. Like most “advice” I hear, it creates unrealistic expectations about how relationships and marriages work.
That’s why I started using #marriagegoals as a way to talk to engaged couples about what actually makes a strong, healthy relationship. And it’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things.
This blog is the first in a series that will explore what #marriagegoals are, and how you can start working toward them.
#marriagegoal #1: Learn to fight (nice).
Couples usually fall into two categories when I ask how they fight: they say “we fight A LOT,” or “we neverrrr fight.”
To my fight a lot people: your goal is to find a way to make the arguments not feel so big, so hostile, or so never-ending. This doesn’t mean don’t argue. It means you find a way to disagree that doesn’t threaten the relationship, leave either of you feeling personally attacked, or lead to resentment.
To my never fighters: one or both of you is not being heard in the relationship. You are two different people, with two different life experiences, with two different ways of seeing the world – so it’s only human that disagreements will pop up from time to time. So if you’re not fighting, at least one of you is withholding thoughts/feelings/opinions from the other person. The goal is the same as above: to find a way to disagree that doesn’t threaten the relationship, leave either of you feeling personally attacked, or lead to resentment.
People think that disagreeing with your partner is a bad thing. But really, it’s only “bad” if you’re doing it in an unhealthy, unproductive way.
So how do you have a productive argument? Here are three ways to get you on the right track:
1. Be a good message sender.
Sending a good message means sending a clear message. What is it you want your partner to know? Practice good message sending by: staying on track, limiting unnecessary information that doesn’t relate to your point, and being able to identify how you’re feeling about the subject. As Brené Brown would say, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Be clear when you’re explaining your position in a disagreement to your partner.
2. Be a good listener.
Being a good listener is harder than you would think. Many of us think we are good listeners, but we fall into “the assumption trap.” The assumption trap looks like this:
what our partner says
our assumptions about what they said
what we hear them say
What your partner says and what you hear them say are rarely the same thing. And that’s because we don’t give them a blank slate: we make assumptions about all kinds of things as they tell us something.
That is dangerous territory as a listener because it limits your ability to genuinely absorb what your partner wants you to hear. It also stops you from being curious about something you may be unclear about – because you’re already assuming you know what they mean.
3. Leave the argument unresolved when necessary
According to research by John Gottman at The Gottman Institute, 69% percent of all problems in a relationship are perpetual. Translation: Almost 70% of the problems you have with your partner WILL NOT BE SOLVED.
If you’re like me, that information is really annoying. But research is research, and the more I see it, the more I know it to be true.
So what does that mean? You’re going to have to learn to walk away from an argument and accept that you don’t see eye to eye with your partner. You’re going to have to do that 69% of the time, so you might as well start practicing now.
But couples who can do these three things can create safety in talking about tough subjects – and that is #marriagegoals.
If you want help with learning how to disagree in your relationship more productively, contact me here!