How to Fight With Your Spouse Without Dropping the “D-Word”
This marriage can’t be saved. It’s over.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that in the middle of a fight, you’re not alone. Marital arguments are frustrating and uncomfortable, because the person we expect to be our biggest ally in the world, suddenly becomes our adversary.
And that’s the problem. When you start seeing your partner as your enemy, you’ve entered a dangerous element of conflict known as detachment. When we detach from someone else in the middle of a conflict, we see the two sides are “my side” and “their side.” We have a hard time acknowledging any common ground or common desires.
As you start to detach, you find yourself getting your emotional needs fulfilled everywhere but your marriage. Or you may find yourself “stonewalling,” where you freeze the other person out. John Gottman, Ph.D, who coined the phrase, says that stonewalling breeds resentment in both members of the couple.
Once you’ve detached from your partner, it’s easier to fight dirty. They’re not a real person to you anymore, in a sense, because your anger makes you blind to the human being (whom you hopefully love!) standing in front of you. They’re just the enemy. And the enemy must give in or be destroyed. And once you’ve detached from your marriage, it’s MUCH easier to throw out phrases designed to kill. Phrases like “I want a divorce.”
Dropping the d-word is so much more than just a dirty fighting tactic. Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm. You’re indicating that you’d rather just save yourself the fight because there’s nothing worth salvaging.
Now, don’t think I’m advocating that you can never bring up divorce in a marriage. Sometimes – and I’ve been there – two incompatible people have to start the process of considering divorce. But that needs to be a very well-though out, well-prepared conversation. Not a bomb dropped in the middle of a fight for shock value or to hurt your partner.
Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm.
Using “I want a divorce” in a typical marital argument is the ultimate sign that you’ve allowed yourself to breed an unhealthy detachment from your spouse. If you realize you’ve detached, you can fix it.
For starters, find common ground in your argument. Try to go back to the root of the issue and find some kind of common ground. Common ground has been proven by scientists to help people in conflict avoid detachment and depersonalization.
There is almost always something you both want in common, even if that thing is “to stop fighting.” Maybe you both want financial security, but you disagree on the details. Or you both want a relaxing vacation, you just disagree about whether his mother should be there. Many arguments start as task-related arguments – a disagreement about how something should be accomplished. But when the disagreement goes unsolved for too long, it turns personal, and that’s when detachment happens.
“Divorce” is a dirty word in a marriage. There are far more productive ways to fight besides dropping the d-word bomb, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Instead, stay attached to your partner, find common ground, and fight healthy. It’s worth it!