I’ve been happily married for 21 years, which is how old my husband was when we got married. We were young, which can be a bane or a blessing depending on how you see it. Marrying young can be a mixed bag, just like marrying when you are older. The upside to marrying young is that people are more flexible in their point of view; therefore, the couple can adapt more easily. The upside to marrying older is that you are more aware of who you are and what you want out of life; therefore, you can search for a partner with similar goals.
No matter how perfect your match is or how young and mentally flexible you are…you are going to argue. This is an immutable point. But let’s identify where that comes from. Your perspective is different. You are two people who:
- Come from different families
- Have different experiences
- Have vastly different expectations
You know that’s why people advise young people to marry someone who has similar values, right? The closer you are in viewpoint, the fewer arguments you’re going to have. But the goal is not to have fewer arguments—the goal is to take the sting out of them so you can meld your two viewpoints after discussion and, perhaps, debate.
Each successful discussion or debate is going to take you from being Me-Me McMyWayton to Newly McWeddedBliss. We are on a journey to who we will become, and our partner is there to help us. Each change in viewpoint makes us stronger, more patient and loving. With some effort, you can become closer in terms of values and beliefs, and you can encourage each other to better yourselves. We need people in our lives to help us out of stagnant thought patterns, and our spouse is the most important person in that process.
So how can we disagree and debate alternate views without hurting each other’s feelings?
First, remember that this isn’t winner take all.
If you’re a competitive person who needs to be right, you are going to continually undermine your spouse whether you mean to or not. And frankly, you are going to look like a big fat jerk to anyone who spends any amount of time with you. No one likes that kind of person. If you hear yourself say, “but you are wrong” or “don’t be ridiculous” too much, you are the jerk. If it’s your spouse who is the one who has to win, schedule time to talk with him or her about the goal of debate.
The goal should be both people doing what’s best for the marriage. If your spouse is into sports, suggest that the teams aren’t you vs. him/her—they’re you two vs. the rest of the world.
Second, ask and listen without judgment initially.
When I first met my husband, he did some things that annoyed me. One was so bad that I spent the day praying about how to talk to him about it. I felt like the Big Guy Upstairs was telling me not to berate my husband, but to trust that he was a logical, intelligent human being.
I had to practice how to ask, without sounding condescending, “Honey, I know you are really smart, and I trust your decision, but could you walk me through why you chose to do X?” It’s pretty easy to say that in an ugly, flippant way, so I practiced for a long time. And by the time I mastered it, he responded with, “Gosh, I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it.” I then was able to say, “Well, I was upset earlier. I am always going to expect you to be able to answer that question, so could you consider your actions in the future.” He agreed, and apologized for upsetting me. It set the tone for our whole marriage. I was able to literally forgive and forget. All these years later, I still can’t remember what made me so angry.
Third, soften the blow of occasional criticism by regularly giving compliments.
I read an article years ago that you need to hear seven compliments to counter one insult. That number varies depending on the source, but it’s true that a criticism can hurt someone with a low self-esteem, while compliments can build up self-esteem over time. The painful truth is that we don’t hear often enough how much we are loved, cared for, appreciated, etc. Likewise, when we receive a criticism, even if it’s constructive, it can feel like a personal attack, particularly when it comes from the most important person in our lives.
My husband and I, in our first few months of marriage, decided to begin complimenting each other seven times (or more) per day just in case we lost control of our tongue. We kept count of our compliments at first, but over time, we didn’t have to because it came spontaneously and far more than seven times a day. Eventually we made a game out of trying to come up with a new turn of phrase or gesture to improve each other’s mood. I say things like “have I told you how handsome you are today?” He will say, “You can tell me again, I like to hear it.” We have these sweet conversations all the time.
The essential thing is that the compliments be as real and loving as possible. Then, when you criticize how your spouse does something, it won’t be an indictment against the person but merely a disagreement with an act or viewpoint.