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I find myself still fighting poorly with my husband. We’ve come a long way in how we convey disagreements since our engagement (when we had our first real super duper fight?). And neither of us are the argumentative sort. Well, I’M not. And we know him to be easy going and generally laid back. So maybe one of us might be more stubborn and opinionated but I wouldn’t know that for a fact.

Late into the hours the other night, my (sick? not really. teething? not really. growth spurt? maybe, sure. insomnia? could be. sleeping with his eyes open? definitely) littlest babe was up. In a weird way. Like, when I sat by his crib and held his hand periodically he would murmur off into a sleep that meant his eyes were taped open but his breathing and twitching indicated he was in REM. And when I tried to sneak out multiple times, he knew, oh! he knew.

All this to say, I had a few hours sitting in a chair to braid segments of my hair, and think about this. How to fight better when you have small kids.

Why is fighting different when you have small kids? Because you’re worn out to begin with, so your starting base isn’t a rest-filled, restored, peaceful, tranquil, my house-is-as-i-clean-up-last-night sort of life. You live in the rings of a tornado. So your fights can’t even come from a solid foundation. You’re like swinging into the wild winds hoping your spouse hears you because they might be in the middle of a very poop covered outfit that managed to ooze out onto their wool sweater.

1) Ask, “Are you upset with me?”

But don’t start thinking of the litany of reasons why you are upset with him and the bubbling outrage of IF HE ANSWERS YES I WILL TELL HIM ALL THE REASONS I AM UPSET WITH HIM AND DOES HE EVEN KNOW ABOUT THE POOP ON MY SWEATER THAT I CAN’T WASH IN THE WASHING MACHINE?!? Just listen. If he yells, great! If he doesn’t respond, be patient. Communication is wonderful! Sharing feelings is healthy! Let it all come out of him before you leap to your (totally justifiable) defenses. Just let him lay it out. For many guys it’s hard enough to access their feelings, and then verbalize them, and then when your wife takes a club and beats you for saying them: no incentive to ever do it again.

2) Don’t commit him to activities he hasn’t agreed to (fight waiting to happen). If you want to do it, only say you will if you are willing to do it alone.

Everyone’s tired. Everyone’s working. In the short hours of leisure, don’t sign your spouse up (literally or verbally) for things that you know (or suspect) they won’t enjoy. Some obligations you just gotta do, like family stuff or church stuff, so save the dragging for the absolute necessities.

I got a voucher for family swim at our swim school and planned it all out that he could take our oldest and they could enjoy an hour or so of splashing in the pool. I also really didn’t want to get into a swimming suit so I figured he could do it. But when I probed a little deeper, I actually heard him when he said he didn’t have the energy to do it Friday night. He wanted to come home & eat & be with the kids, not run around in the dark cold wet night. I had to own it. I’ll take SuperBoy next week because I would love the one-on-one time (despite my abhorrence to swimsuits in January.)

3) Sometimes you’re not going to get to the bottom of it.

I’m a big believer in talking it all out. Make sure everyone is okay, satisfied, begrudgingly compromised perhaps, but on the same page. It’s called resolution and I love it.

We can’t always achieve resolution. We can’t necessarily always even achieve closure. So if I find we’re in a situation where we’re on different planets, the best I hope for is understanding. Not agreement, not warm fuzzy feelings, but that I hear him out and he hears me out. If (big if) I can achieve that with some kindness in my tone, then maybe our positions will eventually merge into happy complete agreement. If I can’t, at least I can comprehend where he’s coming from.

4) Don’t ask him to do something if I am not going to accept how he goes about doing it.

This is a silly example, perhaps. I make oatmeal every morning for the kids. Even if we’re going to have pancakes or waffles–because I know they’ll get their fill of a good wholesome grain first. Then they can pick up their carb load and douse it in syrup and whatever room their stomachs have, I have no problem with that. Oatmeal with whole fat plain yogurt + berries (frozen or fresh). That’s our breakfast.

Weekend mornings, my husband lets me sleep in. I get to sleep and lounge in bed. He does breakfast. It’s cereal. The kids adore weekend mornings.

I grew up with cereal for breakfast every day (and rarely the sugary kind I deeply yearned for) and hey! there’s not wrong with cereal. But it’s not how I do it, and what I’ve committed to doing for their breakfasts. So do I make him do it my way and fight about it or just appreciate we have nourishing food to eat and that I’m sleeping? Yeah, I go for the latters.

5) Pick the best time to make my case.

If I want to address something that’s not working for me, or that has been building up for a while, I try to pick my best time to talk about it. Pillow talk? Yes! When the kids are finally asleep at night and we’re reading together without any interruptions of but i still can’t fall asleep. When we’re out for a coffee or beer after bedtime and there is no laundry to be folded or dishes to be done. When he’s in a listening mood and I’m not in an aggressive victimhood mood.

6) When I’m mad, don’t use it as a time to spray all my other annoyances at him like a firehose.

Women are generally more verbally agile than men. Not all women, not all men. But when we’re fired up, we can let loose and just blow every single thing out and spin it and generalize and make a lot of YOU ALWAYS DO  ____ statements. At least I’m wildly guilty of this.

Yes, we have our flare ups when we’re actually upset, like actively mad, but those are the least effective times for us to actual work through something. I have to narrow my complaint, focus on the precise problem, instead of spewing out of sleep-deprived annoyance. The firehose approach is cruel and can be lasting in damage because those words don’t just evaporate when your temper has cooled.

7) Remember that this time with small kids requires a lot of emotional energy for both of us and let sh*t go.

Is it really really really important? Is this the hill to die on? Mittens when it’s 7 degrees above? Yes. Whether or not the kids are eating apple sauce after apple sauce instead of saving their appetite for dinner. No.

I need to save my emotional energy for the rapid fire emergency feelings my small kids rotate through experiencing. Whether it was that his sister touched his pirate ship, or that he took her napkin, or that I wouldn’t let him put marbles in his mouth, the struggle is real when you’re a little kid. We hold their wounds in our hearts, we carry them through the choppy feelings of being sad/mad/glad, we nurture them off and on all the day long.

These are my seven. I’m sure you have some deep wisdom on how you’re fighting better with your spouse, so dish.

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8 Responses to 7 Ways to Fight Better with Your Spouse When You Have Small Kids

  1. Amy A. says:

    Hi Nell, I’ve been meaning to “introduce” myself to you for awhile. I live in St. Paul too, I have twin six-month boys, I found you through Haley from Carrots for Michaelmas, and I love your blog :-) Anyway, something that has helped my husband and I navigate (or even avoid) arguments since our boys were born is the rule that The First Request Must Be Kind. The first time we ask the other one to do something (or not do something), it must be said kindly and politely, no matter how tired or frustrated you are. The second request can be firmer, if needed, but we’ve found this really helps cut down on hurt feelings over small things, and since we instituted this rule there are actually a lot fewer second requests. I hope you are having a wonderful Sunday!

  2. Thank you for this, Nell! These are things I know deep in my heart, but sometimes I just need to see it all written out clearly and understand I need to take a breath and DO this. Our personalities are very similar and it’s heartening to know I’m not the only one! God bless!

  3. Kasey says:

    A good rule that is so, so (so, so, so etc…) hard for me to follow is one my father suggested. Hold hands while you argue or at least be affectionately touching. It really does soften the heart, especially when you want it to be cold, hard & bitter. Haha. So it’s painful but good. My husband follows it better than I, which I’m so thankful for.

  4. JenP says:

    I really appreciated the communication and arguing tips from Passage to Intimacy by Lori H. Gordon – it really illuminated how different personalities approach things, and where vulnerabilities truly lie that we often try to conceal. It also spend a good amount of time getting at familial patterns and how those are revealed in your relationships now. Great read. Not Catholic, but so much helpful approaches in it.

    For my DH and I – we’ve grown a ton in how we communicate and listen to each other over the years, but one area I’ve really grown is in taking the time to get at what really bothers me, rather than what I initially think bothers me. And sharing everything, including the things I feel embarrassed about because in my idealist mind, they don’t seem legitimate, but they are nevertheless causing pain between the both of us. I wish we would do monthly check-up sessions -just to kindly lay out what’s going well and what we’d like to improve, but we’re just not that organized… we find our ways though.

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