Don't say "no" right away.
This has been the cause of so many arguments with my husband, and probably rightly so. He hates when I immediately turn down an idea he suggests. My brain comes up with ten reasons it won't work instead of considering the merits and trying to advocate for his idea, which he's in all likelihood thought through and gotten excited about before mentioning anything to me. In turn, he feels defensive, dejected, and isolated. This isn't the kind of marriage I want. I want to have fair conversations and come to the best conclusion together. I'm learning to hold my tongue and not say "no" right away.
Give the benefit of the doubt.
It's easy to immediately assume that things my husband says are meant to be hurtful, accusatory, or critical. But the vast majority of the time, he's either innocent of any malice or unaware of how what he's saying is coming across. Instead of jumping to a negative conclusion and defending myself, I'm learning to hold my tongue and give him the benefit of the doubt. When I calmly ask him to clarify or help him realize how what he said might be misconstrued, we've taken steps forward rather than backward.
Practice active listening.
I am extremely guilty of being unable to listen in the moment. I selfishly look for the bottom line of how things affect me, try to identify and solve the key problem before getting all the information, interrupt with my own thoughts and experiences, or completely lose focus and change the subject or tune out – all embarrassing admissions. If I just hold my tongue while my husband is listening and practice true active listening skills – not just lip service “uh-huh’s” – our marriage flourishes. I learn more about him, find myself better able to give him what he needs in the moment, and prove that I truly care about what’s going on in his life.
I recently read an enlightening blog post of which the main idea is that husbands and wives should never complain about the other behind their backs. The author writes, “The wife who continually bemoans her husband’s flaws will continue to see those flaws as central to who her husband is. The man who makes jokes about his marriage will eventually come to see his marriage as a joke.” Concentrating on the negative in the marriage without going straight to the source and working through problems will do nothing but drive a wedge between spouses, undermining the meaning of marriage itself: two lives becoming one. I’m learning to hold my tongue when I feel the urge to complain about my husband. Instead, my goal is to show the world the truth: that I’m actually his biggest advocate and fan.
If it feels like your marriage is a constant battle – full of anger, defensiveness, and miscommunication – consider the counterintuitive solution: just try being quiet for a change.