Many marriages are plagued with arguing and fighting that quickly escalate into name calling and contempt which leaves both husband and wife hurting. I classify arguments and fights like this: first, there is the functional level of discussion where ideas are freely exchanged. Secondly, there is the dysfunctional level of arguments where both think like this, “I’m right, and you are wrong.” Lastly, this stage quickly escalates to fights where each is trying to deliberately hurt the other with name calling and dragging up past events for ammunition to throw at the other.
In my work with couples I try to help them establish a Basic Rules of Communication. First, each writes a list called a Never List. It is a list of words that they promise not to use in future arguments, such as divorce, I hate you and their favorite name calling. Next is a promise to remain responsible even though the couple is arguing. This means they will not argue in front of the kids or talk negatively to anyone else about their spouse. If they have to postpone the argument and meet an obligation, they do it responsibly, knowing they can discuss this later. Next is accountability. No one leaves without saying where you are going and when you are coming back. You may be angry with each other, but you are still accountable to each other. Lastly, there is a promise to listen to the other person because this is the only way to resolve conflict, by listening intently to each other.
Unless couples can curb the criticism and contempt, which is unrestrained speech, they will only continue to inflict new wounds. When couples realize that defensive behavior and stonewalling keep couples apart and make resolution impossible, they make changes. When couples realize that they can actually slow down or even stop the arguments and fights, it changes their relationship. They begin to enjoy each other more and spend more time together. When they need to discuss a conflict, they can learn to do it in a way that doesn’t cause a total train wreck.
The patterns of fighting that most couples have developed are very engrained and difficult to stop without some intervention from a third party. However, when couples really seek help and then apply what they learn, they can break these unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns that rob them of their emotional and spiritual intimacy with each other and with God.