There are three main types of fights in marriages. They are attack-attack, attack-defend and silent-silent. Start paying attention to what kinds of fights you have in your marriage. Notice what and how your spouse does.
If your spouse tends to play defense, you may be thinking that it’s because he or she is guilty. You are tempted to keep attacking. What you need to understand is that there are a lot of good reasons for a defensive response. A defensive person may appear rude and not caring during an argument, but in reality he or she is going through a lot.
If you are the partner that doesn’t tend to become defensive, try to recognize and share what you see when your partner becomes defensive.
If you’ve been married for a long time and you fight a lot, it is very likely that you react with anger and aggression when your partner gets defensive. Think about some of your recent fights and try to pinpoint the moment when your partner went into defense mode. Chances are that it happened when you were not looking at each other, when one of you was making excuses, was sad, afraid, angry or disapproving.
If you are the one who plays defense, you need to understand that there is a lot that is happening with your partner and it’s not just about anger. Your partner may be afraid that you don’t care anymore, that you will leave or that he or she is the bad person.
Most couples find it very hard to talk about the real reasons for their conflicts and there’s a good reason for that. Opening up and sharing the deepest thoughts, feelings and desires may feel very scary and vulnerable. Staying in a secondary emotional response to the real things that are happening underneath the surface is much easier. The problem is that if you don’t deal with real issues, you will be stuck in the secondary loop for a long time because the real issues will remain unresolved.
Compare the following two statements:
I am very angry. I can’t believe you did this. I’ve told you a hundred times not to do this.
I am very angry. I can’t believe you did this. Sometimes I start thinking that you don’t care any more.
The first statement describes the secondary emotion and it stays with it. It pushes the partner away because it doesn’t offer a solution and doesn’t show any vulnerability. The role of anger in human psyche is to assert and protect boundaries and that’s exactly what the anger is doing here. The problem is that there’s a right and wrong time and place for everything. When you are trying to discuss and solve an issue, you’re not there to assert boundaries. You want to join forces to solve a problem.
The second statement is very different. It starts with a secondary emotion, but then switches to the underlying issue. This also brings out the vulnerability and makes the other spouse want to show care and create comfort. This is the way to use emotions in communication and fights in a marriage.