Problem Point: How Can I Avoid Conflict With a Spouse Who Seems Set on Fighting?

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When someone seems to like conflict in a relationship rather than harmony, at least four things are happening:

  1. That person genuinely feels that the only way they can engage you is through arguments and conflict. You obviously don’t like their behaviour, and try to avoid them, which means you pay more attention to preventing clashes developing than to any other way of resolving issues. That person feels they get your attention at such times, and so will spoil for an argument whenever they can.
  2. They do not feel they are being listened to, or acknowledged in their needs or complaints. When we feel the other person doesn’t want to listen to us, and makes no effort to help to deal with our concerns, we are likely to adopt a form of sabotage in its place, just to get attention, and feel heard. That’s the only tool they believe they have and will use it as necessary.
  3. When respect and care are deteriorating. If we have little respect for the other person, we won’t care how they feel, and we won’t care what we do to hurt them either. That is perhaps the state of your relationship just now: two uncaring people seeking to ignore or hurt each other in the best way they know how: one by not listening, or paying any attention to the other, while they, in turn, seek to cause as much conflict and discomfort as possible.
  4. One person is low in self-esteem and has a need to feel more significant by using aggression against the other in order to exercise some power. Conflict and perhaps intimidation is their only way of feeling in control.

When things have reached such a low level, it is time to reboot your relationship in a more positive vein, before it disintegrates altogether. For example, begin by scheduling a set time each week (like 1–2 hours) to sit together and talk about concerns. Actually LISTEN to each other without commenting until the other is finished, and try to work on solutions together. You might have to do this twice per week, initially, until you both get used to trusting each other again, and want to work as a team instead of two opponents and coping with frustrations.

When these sessions are in place, if there is any conflict arising, you politely explain that it won’t solve anything, and that any grievance should be saved for the discussion sessions, as conflict will only exacerbate the situation. If the person refuses, you should leave the scene entirely and do something else. But one hand cannot clap, and if you stay where the person can use you for their frustrations, they will carry on doing it in exactly the same way.

Sooner or later, the hope is that they will see the beneficial effects of the discussions and regular communication: mainly that they lead to far more positivity than constant arguments and conflict. You will also be reinforcing the discussions with listening and empathising, while refusing to join in any argument to please them or to give them any sense of power over you.

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