Jordan, one of our friends from Facebook, recently wrote in and asked for help...
"Hi Dr. Kathy. I hope you can help us. Cindy and I have been married for 9 years and I love her very much. We have really hectic lives: we both work, our kids have us running around left and right, we barely have any time for ourselves or our relationship. We have been fighting a lot lately. In fact it's gotten so bad in the last couple of months that I've wondered if we're going to make it. Is there anything we can do? Please help. Thanks."
And here's my answer to Jordan...
Hi there, Jordan. Thanks so much for writing in, great question! I am sure most of us can relate and let me give you some hope, there is A LOT you can do to make it better.
We tend to fight more when we are stressed and tired. Because you both work and have 2 kids, I'd expect that you're very tired and probably pretty run down.
I hear that you have no time for yourselves, but if you can, please try to squeeze a little time in each day.
Maybe it's 10 minutes of reading at night, maybe it's a 20 minute walk during lunch, maybe getting up 15 minutes earlier to have your coffee and get yourself ready for the day will help.
I really think this is important because all things in your life flow from you. If you feel crabby, then you'll behave poorly, react poorly and cause things to go worse. So if we want to change things, we must start with ourselves.
Secondly, we need to find a way to get a little more couple time in for you two every week.
Lots of research has shown that couples who spend 5 hours or more of quality time together each week have the happiest and healthiest relationships. With your schedule, this may not be realistic.
So let's shoot for just increasing the quality time you spend together every day and maybe add one date night (or date hour) each week.
You don't have to do a lot. You can add a 10 minute talk to each day, where you just touch base about how the day went, how each other was feeling, what's on the other's mind.
Make sure to talk about some feelings, not just the facts or events of the day. Then on the weekend, see if you can schedule a date night (by the way, great babysitters on Care.com) or a date "hour", where you go for a walk, have a glass of wine, or play a game.
We must remember that our relationships are living things: if we neglect them, they die.
If you throw a plant in a closet with no water or light for a few weeks, you don't expect to see a healthy plant when you go back and open the closet. Same is true of our marriages!
Now, as to what you can specifically do to make fights go better... throw in some ice cubes.
An "ice cube" is a kind word, a touch, a nod, a compassionate expression or anything else you can say or do that will cause the fight to cool down.
Fights get bigger and longer and worse when we just keep going and going, arguing for our perspective, and never doing anything to make the other person feel better.
Here are a few of my favorite fight-busting Ice Cubes....
"Honey, I understand. What you're saying makes sense."
"I get it and I am sorry. What can I do now to make it better?"
"Sweetheart, I am on your side. I am not trying to attack you."
"I see you're really upset, I know this is very important to you."
"Trust me, we're on the same team. I know we'll figure this out."
"Baby, how can I help? I don't want you to be so upset."
"I'm really sorry. Please forgive me. I understand what you're saying."
So you see, the idea is to express compassion and to validate how your spouse is feeling. You can come up with your own ice cubes and use them when things are getting heated during a discussion.
It's best if you can add these in when the fight is heating up, rather than when it's boiling. If things are boiling, best to just take a break and promise to continue later.
I also encourage you to touch your spouse during an argument. Just a little touch on the hand or the shoulder; nothing too overt or sexual. The touch is meant to convey, "Hi, I am here with you, I love you. I am not the enemy."
Eye contact also is important; be sure to look at your spouse sincerely and genuinely. Make sure your arms are not crossed and your body is relaxed.
Also... use terms of endearment. Most people find these terms (Honey, Sweetheart, Dear, etc..) comforting and loving.
And one final recommendation, check out our step-by-step guide to fighting less. Inside, you'll learn simple, proven steps to fight less, keep fights calmer, and stop walking on eggshells.
Hope it goes well, Jordan. Please keep me posted! - Dr K