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I love my spouse, but there is a lot of fighting in our marriage. My spouse gets offended really easy and finds fault in me often, which leads to a lot of conflict and some pretty mean, immature and even rude behavior. The thing is, there are other times when my spouse is really wonderful. We have been like this for so long, to some degree, I’m starting to think it’s normal, though I have friends who have said the way she treats me isn’t OK. I am starting to think the amount of conflict and the degree of selfishness is more than I should put up with. When is behavior bad enough that I should walk away? What is reasonable fighting behavior and what’s not? Am I an idiot to stick with this?
Some conflict, disagreements and hurt feelings happen in every relationship because we are all going to irritate, disappoint or offend our partner on occasion. The question is, do you and your partner have the skills to resolve these issues in a healthy, rational, productive way? Can you have mature, rational conversations about these disagreements without getting angry or out of control?
If you came from a family with parents who had these skills, you may have them, but for many people that wasn’t the case. If your parents were slightly emotionally immature, angry or demonstrated any unhealthy relationship behavior, you are going to need to take it upon yourself to gain some communication and conflict resolution tools. I wish they taught these kinds of skills in school or at church, but they don’t, so you may have to reach out to a mental health professional, coach, or counselor to learn some.
In this article, I am going to give you three categories of relationship “fighting” behavior, along with some suggestions for dealing with each. You definitely need to know what behavior is unacceptable, what is grounds for leaving, and what would be considered normal.
Here are the three "fighting" behavior categories:
1. Garden-variety bad behavior caused by fear and stress.
To be in this category, the bad behavior can’t show up often, but when it does, it’s based in being stressed, tired, hungry or discouraged, and though it might be annoying, immature, grouchy or even a little inconsiderate, it’s not directly hurtful and would be appropriate to ignore or let go, without needing to bring it up to your partner. No one is perfect and everyone will have a bad day on occasion, snap, lose their temper or say something stupid.
When your partner offends you with this kind of behavior, don’t make a big deal about it. Forgive them and let it go. You will do this because you want your small “mess-ups” and bad days to be forgiven too. If you bring up every little thing your partner does wrong, you will kill the relationship. If your partner starts to live here and it becomes an everyday thing though, it would move into category two.
2. Bad behavior that happens too often, is hurtful, harsh or unkind
This behavior should not be ignored. This category includes intentionally or unintentionally hurting your feelings, yelling, being inconsiderate, hitting or breaking things, being unkind, making jokes at your expense, being unfair or selfish on a regular basis. If these behaviors show up, you should have a mutually validating conversation about it and ask your spouse to treat you differently in the future.
This kind of conversation requires you to not cast your spouse as the bad one and talk down to them. It means recognizing you both have the same value and are both imperfect, but you need to both listen to how the other person feels and what they need and then ask them to do the same for you. At the end of this conversation, you will ask your partner if they would be willing to change some things moving forward or get some help to change them if necessary.
If your partner isn't willing to change these behaviors and refuses professional help, you may find yourself in category three.
3. Bad behavior that should not be tolerated.
If your partner is not changing their inappropriate behavior from category two, or their behavior has escalated to the behavior described below, it is appropriate to insist on professional help or be prepared to end the relationship. No one deserves to stay in a relationship where they are abused or feel unsafe and uncared for.
The following types of behavior are unacceptable:
Here are some relationship rules you might want to institute with your partner to prevent inappropriate fighting behavior.
1. If either of our bad behavior is something the other can let go and forgive (never to think about it or bring it up again), then we should. If you are going to hold onto this offense, let it fester and keep bothering you, building up resentment toward your partner, adding it to the growing laundry list of their faults, then you should bring it up and work through it.
2. Both commit to bringing up any offenses in a mature and loving way. This means you cannot make your spouse the bad guy or prove you are right. These conversations must be about improving your relationship and should include things each person can do to show up better for the other because you love each other. (Read about having validating conversations in my article about getting your spouse to treat you better.) You should never attack your partner nor focus on just their past mistakes. Instead, focus on the different behavior you want to see in the future.
3. Both commit to learning how to have mutually validating conversations where each partner gets a chance to have his say and express his feelings without interruption. Both should feel that the other honors and respects their right to have their opinion, even if they disagree with it. Then together, the couple should create a win-win, compromise solution. They should try to make it the two of you against the problem, not the two of you against each other.
If you cannot find a win-win solution on your own, you could ask a third party to meet with you and help find a compromise. A religious leader, coach or counselor could help with that.
4. Needing some time and space to process and think things through leads to more appropriate “fighting” behavior. Couples must have the right to call a “timeout” and have that request honored. This is not about giving your partner the silent treatment or ignoring them or getting out of a conversation. This is about each of you having the right to call a “timeout” so you can calm down and get clear before finishing the conversation and the other person honoring that. This needs to be agreed on ahead of time, that whenever one of you call it, the other will honor it and walk away for a while.
In your case, remember you are the only one entitled to know whether it’s time to move on, or if your perfect classroom is to stay and keep working on it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do. Listen to your heart and inner truth, and it will tell you what's right for you.
In the meantime work on the relationship rules above and see if that helps.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com and 12shapes.com. She and Nicole Cunningham are master coaches with 30 combined years in personal development and relationship skills. They are human behavior experts.
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These articles were originally published on KSL.COM
Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.