If your style of conflict with your spouse is to talk to (or at) him/her like you’re in a court room please take a moment to consider what couples you’re likely to find in an actual court room.
Couple’s get into conflict over 300 times a year according to one survey. Some are big and some are small, but in every conflict each person has a point of view, and a point that they NEED to get across – the need usually corresponds to the size of the conflict. Conflict really is okay. I’m not afraid of conflict nor do I see conflict between a couple as a bad sign. I’m more interested in how couples have a conflict.
How you feel and what you do in response to the tension of two opposing points of view is your style of conflict. If you have a tendency to amass evidence, construct arguments, and invalidate anything and everything your spouse says, then congratulations. You have a legalistic style of confrontation. No, that’s not an official psychological term but if your spouse has ever complained that you sound like a lawyer then you might want to consider how you approach conflict. That and perhaps it’s time to ease up on the Law & Order reruns.
Court rooms are places where grievances are aired, arguments are listed, and someone wins. Well, actually, no one “wins” as much as some third party, the judge/jury, declares a winner. Once that happens then the plaintiff and defendant go home together and live happily ever after. Happens every time, right? Yes, exactly never… So a court room style is probably not the best approach to spousal conflict. No one goes home, or to bed – as fights happen at night a lot – in a great mood. Also, who gets to be the judge? Please, please, please don’t say your kids, or your friends for that matter; “Well, dear. I’ve told all of my friends about our little issue and every one of them think you’re a jerk.” (Sigh) Yeah, as tempting as it is to play the ‘all my friends’ card, that never goes well. But I digress.
Again, a court room style is not a great approach to spousal conflict. You have no judge, nor relationship law code for that matter, and unlike parties in a legal conflict, as a spouse I’d argue that you do have a responsibility to offer validation or find some substance in the opposing parties, or spouse’s point of view. You may object to having this responsibility. If your spouse is making you read this then you probably are the lawyer type and objecting is what you do! So, my argument is that your aforementioned responsibility is pursuant to the closest thing spouses have to a code of law: your vows. Yes, that list of things you promised to do in front of all your friends and family, so help you God – and as a couples therapist I do see people make appeals to God on a regular basis. It usually sounds like this, “Oh my F-ing God!” Anyway, according to your vows, specifically the Love and Cherish section, you a responsibility to try to find some grain of truth in your spouse’s point of view. When you realize how hard it might be to see some truth in your spouse’s complaint you may look back and wish you had asked for a little more detail from the minister; “Could you elaborate on that love and cherish part?…”. But, it’s too late to go back now. Really though, it’s going to be okay because your partner, the other one with the ring on, promised to do the same for you.
Back to the points of view. In a conflict you both will have a point of view and a point to view. I might suggest, as part of the love and cherishing, that when your spouse is making a point, do your best to cross the aisle and see things from their point of view, even just the smallest bit. Validation of any size goes a long way. It won’t help you win, but in a marital debate winning really can’t be the end game. As the saying goes, you can be right or you can be happy but you can’t be both.