The Referee: Rules for Fair Fighting in Marriage

Susan and Rick’s marriage was in trouble. They were fighting all the time:

“You’re wasting our money on trinkets!” he would shout.

“What about you, Mr. Showboat, buying drinks for all your friends?”

“That was last year! I’m talking about yesterday.”

“So what? All you’re worried about is money when you ought to worry about what kind of father you’re being to our kids!”

And on it would go until he would threaten to move out and she became frantic.

Their marriage counselor intervened, teaching them rules for carrying on an argument: to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements, to focus on one issue at a time, and to impose a “statute of limitations” on old grievances. The next time Rick had an issue about money, he began by asking if this was a good time to talk. When Susan said okay, he announced, “Susan, I am really worried about our finances. We agreed on a budget. And I feel angry, confused, and powerless when you go out shopping and come back with things that put us over budget that I don’t think we really need.”

“Rick,” Susan countered, “I feel angry too. I feel blamed – and wrongly so. Let me explain what I was trying to do. . . .”

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