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Fighting Fair: The Secret to a Long-lasting Marriage

Fighting Fair

No two individuals are perfectly in sync. So, it’s perfectly normal for a couple – married or otherwise – to bicker occasionally. But if you don’t learn to argue right, those rows may ruin your marriage. SingaporeBrides lists the ways to fight right.

Couples fight. Even if you’re head over heels in love with each other, differences and disagreements will inevitably crop up from time to time. And anything and everything can trigger a fight, from annoying habits to minor irritations to big problems. Like how he forgot your birthday or failed to smile during the family dinner on Sunday. Or how you picked up that phone call from your ex-boyfriend in his presence.

According to a 2011 study, couples argue for as often as 312 times a year. It is also most likely for fights to erupt on Thursdays around 8pm, with an average argument lasting for 10 minutes. For dating couples, arguments tend to be about things like him flicking television channels or you taking too long to get ready. Meanwhile, top on the list of argument triggers are personal habits and household chores, such as not flushing the toilet, stubble in the sink or not replacing the toilet roll.

If you’re preparing for a wedding, expect more disagreements than usual. Take Cecelia and Darren, who are planning to tie the knot in late 2013. Between gown fittings, pre-wed photography shoots and banquet package negotiations, quarrels have been erupting between the two. Says Cecelia: “In the three years that we have been dating, we haven’t really fought much. But since he proposed, we’ve had quite a few minor tiffs about the details of the wedding.”

“For instance, she thinks we should have an equal number of groomsmen and bridesmaids, but I prefer to ask only my closest buddies,” adds Darren. “Her parents are also insisting on a traditional Chinese banquet when our side of the family prefers to have a small church wedding. So we have been bickering more. We even had a major argument in a Tanjong Pagar bridal boutique – the staff had to herd us into the changing room area to thrash things out.”

Fighting Fair

But just because they are fighting more often doesn’t necessarily mean that their relationship is on the rocks – it all hinges on how they fight. Here’s the good news: It is possible to disagree in a healthier way. In fact, if they learn to argue well – such as knowing where and when to fight, as well as what tone of voice and words to use – experts say that they can actually improve their relationship. We list some tips and tricks to handle conflict in your romantic life.

WHAT: Pick your battles.

There are endless things to disagree about in life, such as spending habits and housekeeping styles. Even Prince William and Kate Middleton famously squabble – over Scrabble. But here’s our advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff. If he persists in wearing torn and tattered T-shirts to the neighbourhood mall, let him. If he repeats the same joke over and over again, laugh along. In other words, no one is perfect. Learn to live with your partner’s faults and identify only potential deal breakers to fight about.

WHEN: After you’ve calmed down.

When emotions run high, it’s easy to scream your head off or make hurtful remarks that you will regret later. Don’t let anger get the better of you. Consider scheduling a time-out. This means mutually agreeing to take a break from the argument by setting a later time when you can return to the argument. That way, you can calm down before resolving the conflict in a better state of mind. A time-out should follow certain steps for it to be effective.

Both of you must agree that it’s okay to take a time-outs during an argument. Also agree on a time to return to the argument. This should ideally be within 24 hours, or you may be tempted to brush over the issue without resolving anything.

When you need a time-out, say it in a straightforward but composed way. Like: “I’m too angry right now. Can you give me some time to think this through?” Add lines of reassurances to comfort your partner meanwhile.

During the time-out, calm yourself down by doing soothing activities. You can go on a long walk, take a bubble bath or engage in physical activity, like a game of tennis or even scrubbing the toilet. But as you do so, reflect on the issue as well as your behaviour during the fight. Return to the argument and apologise if you’ve made hurtful remarks. Then, discuss why you reacted the way you did. Finally, focus on the issue at hand, and work together to solve it.

Fighting Fair

WHERE: Behind closed doors.

If you must fight, there is no need to air dirty laundry in the heart of Orchard Road. After all, do you really want the Saturday crowd – complete with shoppers, schoolgirls and street buskers – to know that you spent half a day sulking because he didn’t drive your mother to the market? So, it might be wiser to hold the anger until the both of you can get to a quieter spot. Doing this also trains you to have that self-control not to quarrel in front of others, whether they are strangers or family members. If children come along after marriage, argue before them only if you are modelling good argument techniques.

WHY: To reach a mutual compromise.

During a heated argument, many couples actually forget why they’re fighting in the first place. As they toss accusations and trade insults, they are seeing each other as adversaries – not partners in conflict. But remember, a fight is not a competition and you’re not fighting to win. You’re actually trying to compromise by seeking a middle ground. Once you’ve achieved a mutual compromise, there will be fewer arguments in the future.

HOW: Have an objective discussion without argument.

Do these!

Understand your fighting style: Everyone has a different fighting style. Some instinctively lash out at their partners, while others internalise their unhappiness by withdrawing into silent indignation. The trick is to understand how you fight, acknowledge it, and work to fight in a more constructive way.

Be calm, clear and concise: Do specifically state what you are unhappy about in a calm, clear and concise way. Use the right tone. If you are only a little annoyed, make sure you sound that way – and not like you are furious. If you’re always shouting, it will be hard for your partner to discern how you really feel.

Listen to each other: Too often, couples simply fly off the handle without listening to each other’s point of view. Try sitting down and giving each other 10 minutes to share without interruption. Then take a moment to think through what your partner has said – and try to see things from his perspective as well.

Respond, not react: You can either choose to react reflexively (and often, negatively) or respond reflectively to your partner’s words in an argument. If you do the former without thinking – such as by accusing or nagging at your partner – it can cause trouble in your relationship. Learn to reply thoughtfully instead.

Fighting Fair

Ditch these!

No finger pointing: Whether it’s because of daily frustrations or unresolved baggage, many couples tend to point fingers at each other during disagreements. But blaming your partner will not help matters. Focus on the problem instead of screaming accusatory lines like “You’re always making this mistake!”

Never get physical: Remember Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s rocky marriage? Whenever they fought – over P.Diddy’s phone calls to J.Lo or Marc making snide comments about her post-baby body – they didn’t just scream. They went completely bananas with plenty of pushing and shoving. These massive fights eventually led to their split in 2012. So, that means no pushing each other, punching a wall or plate throwing – no matter how angry you are.

Don’t recycle past hurts: It’s always tempting to remind your partner how he has failed you before just to gain an upper hand in an argument. But if you have already forgiven him, don’t ever bring it up again. When you recycle past hurts, it could lead to deep resentment

Don’t mention the word “divorce”: This can be the most hurtful thing to say between a husband and wife. If you threaten to file a divorce every time you are quarrelling, a premature end to your marriage is definitely on the horizon.