How to Overcome an Abusive Marriage:
Why Do People Who Love Each Other Fight So Much?
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband and I have been married for almost 2 years and we have been having our share of problems. Sometimes I wonder if all the fights we have are my fault or do we share the responsibility of the fights occurring. I also wonder are we fighting so much because we got married at such a young age and we never went to marriage counseling before we got married. The main thing I want to know is why do married people argue so much if they love each other.
Fights are so common in marriage, that some marriage counselors think that they are something couples should try to get used to. But my experience tells me that fights are very destructive to marriages and they prevent a couple from enjoying their marriage to the fullest. Anyone who suggests that fights can help a marriage is seriously mistaken.
Unfortunately, most premarital counseling does not warn couples about the disaster of fighting. Instead, it usually focuses attention on less important issues as personality compatibility and similarities of interests. Those issues have little to do with marital happiness. It is how couples solve problems that determines their love for each other and the quality of their marriage.
Fights represent a flawed attempt to solve a problem. They begin with a conflict between a husband and wife. Instead of negotiating for a fair resolution, one spouse tries to force a solution onto the other. Anger, disrespect and demands make the effort unsafe and unpleasant. Fights usually make the effort to solve the problem fail.
When couples are first married, they usually do not know how to negotiate fairly. Even when they are taught, it doesn't seem natural at first. That's because the most common states of mind in marriage make negotiation almost impossible.
There are three different states of mind people have when they are married. First, the State of Intimacy, is a feeling of wanting to do anything the other person wants. Requests are rarely denied. This state of mind is guided by the Giver that is in each of us, and uses the rule, "do whatever it takes to make the other person happy, and avoid anything to make the other person unhappy, even if it makes me unhappy." The State of Intimacy encourages us to give unconditionally, asking for nothing in return. Obviously, when you or your husband are in the state of intimacy, no fights are possible, because you are willing to give each other anything.
The second state of mind is the State of Conflict, which is a feeling that you've given quite enough and now its time to take. This state of mind is guided by the Taker who lives in all of us, and who has a very different rule than the Giver. The Taker's rule is "do whatever it takes to make me happy, and avoid anything to make me unhappy, even if it makes others unhappy." That's the rule that is responsible for all of your arguments and fights. When both your Taker and your husband's Taker go at it at the same time, each of you is trying to get something whether the other person likes it or not. That's what a fight is all about.
But there is also a third state of mind in marriage. It's the State of Withdrawal, where your Taker has decided that arguing is pointless, and decides to stop trying to get anything from your spouse. You raise defensive barriers to stop the pain that comes from fights, and you decide that you won't give your spouse anything nor expect anything from your spouse. It's emotional divorce.
In every marriage, people experience all three states of mind in their efforts to resolve conflicts. But none of the possible states of mind lead to a negotiated settlement. The first state of mind, intimacy, encourages us to give away the store. The second, conflict, encourages us to rob the store. And the third, withdrawal, wants nothing to do with the store at all.
What I propose to you is that you override your instincts in all three states of mind, and learn to negotiate correctly, regardless of how you feel. If you do that it will lead to a resolution of conflicts that is based on true negotiation -- where both you and your husband will be happy with the outcome.
Set a new goal whenever you and your spouse have a conflict. That goal is the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). It means that you will work toward a resolution that takes the feelings of both of you into account simultaneously. Even if you are in the state of intimacy, where you are willing to give your spouse anything, you won't decide on what to do until you can both be enthusiastic about the decision. In the state of conflict, the policy won't let you argue, because arguing never leads to an enthusiastic agreement. Only respect and thoughtfulness can help you reach that goal.
If you use the Policy of Joint Agreement to resolve conflicts, and avoid Love Busters (selfish demands, disrespectful judgments and angry outbursts) you will rarely find yourselves in the state of withdrawal. It's fights that get people into withdrawal, and the policy will keep you out of fights.
All of this is described in my book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love. It shows you how to resolve all of your conflicts without arguing or fighting. And the solutions are good ones, because each choice you make will take both of you into account at the same time. It's the way all marriages must be if you want your love for each other to hold up over time.
You ask the very important question, "Why do people that love each other fight so much?" The instincts we have in the three states of mind are part of the answer. Our instincts encourage us to fight. But people who love each other and fight, don't love each other very long. The fighting itself causes them to lose their love for each other.
If you and your husband can stop fighting now, and start solving your problems without arguing, you will grow old together loving each other.