Each time my husband and I have a big row (usually about the affair), it seems the only way I can end the argument is to tell him I am going to leave. Whenever I do this he will apologise and then the argument is over.
There are many points in this one question.
PART 1: To start with, I am going to focus on the part where you say that in order to end an argument, you threaten to leave.
In any list of do’s and don’ts in a marriage, threatening to leave should come top of the list of don’ts. We all have a desire to belong, we all have a need for love and connection – these are human needs. One of the ways we can feel as if we belong is by being in a long term and committed relationship – this it was marriage is all about.
We also all have the need to feel safe. This can turn into a painful fear of not feeling safe. There is little comfort in the world in terms of real safety. For example, we cannot control whether a meteor will hit our country, we cannot control whether the plane we are on will not crash, we cannot guarantee that we will never encounter a drunk driver on the road – but if we try and avoid even the possibility of these things happening, we would live our lives like a fearful hermit – in fact, it wouldn’t really be living.
What we can find real safety in is the feeling that we are loved and lovable – because this is a true statement every single moment of our lives. And even if we are having a bad day, or have got upset, or are being inconsiderate, underneath all that behaviour, we are still lovable. We don’t stop loving our children if they get upset, so why would we stop loving our spouses if they get upset, or are being inconsiderate.
If you have a row with your husband and then threaten to leave him – you will be completely destroying his sense of safety in your relationship, and his future chance of feeling like he belongs. This will erode his sense of worth and he will alter his behaviour to try and regain his own sense of safety. Your husband does this by apologising and stopping arguing.
The problem with this now is that without you realising it, your husband will be living in fear – fear from your threats that you will end the marriage. You have learnt effectively to manipulate his behaviour through his fear. In this state, he is effectively your puppet and any consideration he does show you will be done because he is petrified, and not because he genuinely wants to be considerate towards you. He will be acting out of fear, not love. And whilst this might feel better than arguing, it will have much longer term damaging results than you imagine.
I will answer about how we stop arguing and how we start to bring more considerate behaviours into a relationship in a moment, but for now, compile your own set of rules for the way you want to be in your marriage – and I recommend this will be the first one – never threaten to leave. If you want to leave, then leave – don’t threaten to do it to manipulate any situation. There are many, many better things you can do to end an argument.
PART 2: So further to my response about using the threat to leave him as a way to end an argument, I’m now going to address why you would be having the arguments in the first place.
I’m going to assume you have a mobile phone, only because 95% of households in the UK now have at least one mobile phone owner. How do you feel when you get the low battery indicator? I have seen people literally go into a state of panic when they realise their mobile phone might run out of battery completely and stop working. People become very afraid – they have become so dependent on having their mobile phone available – they feel lost and out of control when they leave it at home, lose it, or it runs out of battery.
When we are in a heightened state of fear, we cannot focus on caring about anybody else until our own calm has returned. Imagine you are with your husband and his battery is very low too – and he is in a heightened sense of fear because he is afraid he is about to lose the use of his phone too.
And then you ask him if you can use his phone to save your battery. If he is afraid of his own phone running out of battery, how is he likely to feel when you ask to use even more of his battery up in order to save yours? He is unlikely to feel warm and connected towards you, he will feel the selfishness of your request and he will see in that moment that you are only caring about how you feel and your battery life, than caring about his.
He might be quite short with you. You won’t like this for two reasons. 1) He isn’t willing to give up his own battery life to you and 2) He doesn’t speak in a calm loving tone. This latter reason will now trigger memories of all the times other people, including him, have spoken to you in a less than loving tone. And in that moment you will feel the additional weight of all those sub-conscious memories and this will make you feel even worse. You now snap back at your husband and the conversation is only heading one way – downwards.
This is what happens when you have a row. In some way, you will have asked you husband, or he will have asked you, for something that neither of you are capable or willing to give.
And then you say to him, well, if you’re not going to let me use your phone, then there’s no point in us being married, so I’m leaving. I discussed this in the earlier answer.
You’re actually demanding consideration from your husband when his emotional battery is low. What he needs is to find ways of topping his battery up. This would also help you too – so then you wouldn’t need to keep asking your husband if you can use his phone when neither of you has any battery charge left.
PART 3: In my above responses to your question, I addressed both why it’s not the best idea to threaten to leave your husband in order to end and argument and why you would have these arguments in the first place – because of your emotionally empty (phone) battery! Now let’s address what you might be able to do in order to avoid these types of conflicts in the first place.
If you can remember, that the reason anybody gets tense or crotchety is simply because their emotional battery is on very low. And if you feel the same, then this is because your emotional battery is low too. And, as we discussed before, if you haven’t got any charge in your battery, you can’t give any to your husband. And if he has none in his, then he can’t give anything to you. So, there is no point in getting frustrated and angry with him when he’s got nothing available to give you.
What you need to do in these circumstances is take heed to your empty battery and go and recharge, without demanding your husband does it for you.
So, when you recognise the tension, remember you are empty, and commit to go and recharge yourself. The first step would be to immediately be quiet. Remember your Grandma saying “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” This is so, so important at these moments – be quiet. It means that you don’t waste any more of your little resources, and you don’t cause your husband to lose any of his either. Commit to never speak in anger.
The next step is to get recharged. There are actually several ways you can do this, but few of them will have an immediate effect and the theme of many of them involves time. Whatever the tension or argument is about, it never has to be resolved now. Your marriage is more important than anything else, so the solution to this conflict can at least wait until one of you is recharged – so, take a time out. You could say something simple like “I don’t want to cause anymore conflict in our relationship. I’m going to take some time to myself – I’ll come back to you in a little while.”
If you can do these few steps, (Never speak in anger, stop, be quiet, listen, take your time), then you will significantly reduce the tension levels in your relationship.
PART 4: I said earlier, that most resolution to conflict takes some time. However, there is one solution to conflict that can have an immediate effect. ……..
One of the most startlingly effective ways of ending a conflict quickly is to use those three magic words………. no, not “I love you.” These would be the worst words to use at this moment – especially if your behaviours still prove this isn’t actually the case. We don’t need to tell our partners we love them – we need to show that we love them and since loving them is about caring about how THEY are feeling, without wanting anything back from them, then if you have just been shouting and angry, then all you have shown them in that moment is that the only person you are actually caring about is yourself. Why else would you get angry if it wasn’t because of how you were feeling? Your partner doesn’t make you angry – you choose to be angry. So, whilst you are angry, you are NOT loving your partner – so don’t go and tell them that you do.
So, what are the three magic words……………no, not “I am sorry” either. We get so fed up of people saying sorry because the very next time you get angry, you will prove that you are not sorry – sorry means that you will do things differently – but we think that sorry excuses our behaviour in any one moment and then we just carry on making the same mistakes over and over again – “I’m sorry” starts to wear very,very thin and becomes virtually meaningless.
So, what are the three REAL magic words?……… say “I was wrong.”
Trust me – if you are willingly to humbly state this to your husband and then go on to explain to him EXACTLY what you have been wrong about – he will melt. Actually, he’ll probably fall off his chair the first time because almost nobody in this world willingly admits they are at fault. We always look to blame others and defend our own actions. If you can take responsibility for the things that you have done that haven’t brought love into your interaction, then you will magically completely transform the feelings between the two of you.
You might say something like this. “Sweetheart – I am wrong. I have never experienced having an argument with you and it making us feel closer to one another. I have been wrong to get angry with you and since what I actually want is to feel closer to you, I realise that shouting doesn’t work. I will try and do better in future.”
Just try words like these and see what the real difference is. If you can be wrong, it will transform your relationship. And you will also be demonstrating to your husband that there is a different way from rowing. He’ll like it and who knows – he might even start to tell you about times when he is wrong.
Anger is always wrong because your anger doesn’t help YOU to get closer to someone you are being angry with. If you feel yourself getting disappointed, irritated, frustrated or simply angry, then you will always have something to tell someone you’ve been wrong about.
Written by Pete Uglow.