Every healthy relationship involves conflict. In fact, psychologist John Gottman, who has spent more than twenty years studying what makes marriages last, believes that â€œfighting . . . can be one of the healthiest things a couple can do for their relationship.â€
In his book, â€œWhy Marriages Succeed or Fail,â€ which I highly recommend, Gottman says that how couples fight is â€œone of the most telling ways to diagnose the health of your marriage.â€
So, donâ€™t try to avoid conflict.Â Instead, learn to fight fair. Hereâ€™s how:
Complain, Donâ€™t Criticize
A complaint focuses on the other personâ€™s behavior; criticism focuses on their character. An example of a complaint is â€œYou overspent your clothing budget again this month.â€ It becomes criticism when you blame or verbally attack the other person by adding a comment such as, â€œThat was really selfish of you.â€
Even worse than criticism, contempt insults or psychologically abuses your partner. An example: â€œWhatâ€™s the matter with you? Donâ€™t you ever think before you spend?â€
Be especially vigilant about not letting these types of comments creep into your relationship.Â Think about the words you use and avoid any that convey contempt.
When youâ€™re on the receiving end of a complaint, your instinct will be to respond quickly.Â Go against that instinct.Â Instead, listen actively to what the other person has to say.Â Make sure you understand the issue by asking clarifying questions and mirroring back what you hear.
Defensiveness, which includes denying responsibility and making excuses, only turns up the heat on arguments. When she says, â€œI think youâ€™re spending too much on golf,â€ it wonâ€™t help to storm back with, â€œI have to spend sixty dollars whenever I play; thatâ€™s how much it costs!â€
Try this instead: â€œWell, letâ€™s take a look at our budget and see how much Iâ€™ve spent this month compared to the golf budget we both agreed on. If Iâ€™ve spent too much this month, Iâ€™ll make up for it next month by finding some less expensive places to play or by playing less often.â€
Stay With It
Gottman says men especially are likely to bail out of an argument. Even if they donâ€™t grab the remote in the middle of the conversation and switch on SportsCenter, they may check out by responding with silence. Guys: stay focused.
Two Keys to a Great Marriage
Gottman has drawn two simple, powerful conclusions from his years of studying what makes for a healthy marriage. The first is a straightforward mathematical formula: â€œYou must have five times as many positive as negative moments together if your marriage is to be stable.â€ The second is this: â€œMost couples Iâ€™ve worked with over the years really wanted just two things from their marriageâ€”love and respect.â€
While men and women both need love and respect, women especially need to feel loved by their husband and men especially need to feel respected by their wife.
This point about love and respect would make for some especially helpful conversation between you and your spouse.Â Women, ask the man in your life, â€œWhat do I do, financially speaking, that makes you feel respected?â€Â And, â€œWhat else could I do?â€Â Guys, ask the woman in your life, â€œWhat do I do, financially speaking, that makes you feel loved.â€Â And, â€œWhat else could I do?â€
As Iâ€™ve written before, the insights you gain from this conversation could go a long way toward making money work really well in your relationship.
Matt Bell is the author of three personal finance books published by NavPress, including Money and Marriage.Â He leads workshops at churches and universities around the country and serves as Associate Editor at Sound Mind Investing, Americaâ€™s best-selling investment newsletter written from a biblical perspective.Â To learn more, and for a free subscription to the Sound Mind Investing blog, go to www.SoundMindInvesting.com.Â Â Â
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.