How to Stop Fighting with Your Husband
The Housework Fight
My husband, Thad, and I stand in the kitchen, nose to nose, straining to use our "inside" voices since the kids are in the next room. The issue? A dispute over the placement of knives in the dishwasher. (He's "blades up"; I'm "blades down.") In the heat of it, it's like we're Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day. We keep having the same fights a hundred different ways.
Sure, the details change -- knife placement, kid pickups, who's cooking dinner tonight -- but it's the same basic battle, again and again. And again. So, here we are, whispering angrily over a half-filled dishwasher.
"I call this 'gridlock conflict,'" says psychologist John Gottman, PhD, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. "Each person's position on the issue is core to who they are. So compromising feels like selling out." To protect our egos, we dig in our heels. Deep. Our partner feels rejected. Gridlock ensues.
At least Thad and I aren't alone. This round-and-round sparring is so common in marriages that it accounts for 69 percent of marital conflicts, says Dr. Gottman. But how do we call a truce? Because, in full disclosure, the skirmishes over housework aren't our only gridlock fights. In fact, Thad and I have run-ins with four out of the five hot-button topics that Dr. Gottman identifies: housework, sex, money, in-laws, and parenting. (Thankfully, we've been spared in-law problems.)
"But resolving fights isn't really the issue," explains Gian Gonzaga, PhD, senior director of research and development at eHarmony. "It's how you manage your differences that counts. You need to learn to fight well." In other words, Thad and I have to figure out how to talk (not scream), to prevent (not instigate), and to accept (not be "right" all the time -- which is tough for someone like me, who's always right).
Armed with tips from experts in the field of All Things Marriage Related, I decide to attack our gridlock fights head-on. My goals? To find new combat strategies and, maybe, to resolve (or, at least, tenderize) a few of our chronic conflicts.The Housework Fight
The Battle: He works and cuts the grass. I work, take the kids to school, make lunches, supervise homework, arrange activities, plan and cook meals, manage money...shall I go on? I ask for help, suggesting that Thad make dinner once a week. The first week, I have to remind him. The second, he remembers, decides on taco salad but doesn't read the whole recipe. I step in to inform him that the meat mixture must chill overnight, the tortilla chips can't be added until the end and he needs a much bigger bowl. He flips. "If you won't let me do this myself, why should I do it at all?" I flip back. "I end up doing it anyway!"
The Subtext: Women tend to have higher standards for how the house should be run, says family therapist Joshua Coleman, PhD, author of The Lazy Husband. Why? "Because women pay a higher price socially." If a friend stops by and the house is a mess or a kid is always late to soccer practice, they almost never think, The husband/dad/man of the house doesn't have it together. "Women get the blame," Dr. Coleman explains, acknowledging that it's unfair. Meanwhile, men are more sensitive to being controlled.
The Fix: "Stop micromanaging," Dr. Coleman tells me. "If you ask him to do the dishes after dinner and he's reading the paper, you can't complain. It's still 'after dinner.' Give him a chance." For Thad, Dr. Gottman has this advice: "Take notes -- literally." That means that if I ask for help, he needs to write it down, word for word (as opposed to, say, my making a "Honey-Do" list and thrusting it at him). That way, expectations are clear and he doesn't forget.
The Upshot: Lists rule. Turns out, my 42-year-old husband welcomes the chance to be a little obsessive-compulsive. He forgets less and even jotted "Thad makes dinner" in every Sunday slot of our family calendar. Holding my tongue, however, is so shockingly difficult that I find myself actually biting it on a couple of occasions. On at least six more, I'm unable to control myself and -- boom! -- it's war. But when I just leave him alone and then, afterward, say, "thanks," The Housework Fight stops 100 percent of the time. Yes, 100 percent.