In a Nutshell: Don’t overload your spouse with dozens of complaints and old criticisms. Keep each argument focused on one issue.
I’ve been so excited for peach season. Our tree is finally old enough to have a good crop, and we’ve been eagerly awaiting the upcoming harvest of peachy goodness. One morning, I woke to find that a branch had cracked under the weight of the peaches. I thought we had thinned the peaces enough, but it seemed the still-young branch broke trying to hold up more than it could handle at one time.
The next time you’re having a disagreement with your spouse, think for a minute about my poor peach tree. Make a decision to not load your spouse with more complaints than they can handle. It is amazing that a conversation that begins with who should do the dinner dishes can quickly disintegrate into who is spending too much time at work, why you should spend Christmas with your side of the family, who forgot to pay the light bill, and resurrected anger over a forgotten birthday three years ago. Couples who argue like this usually find themselves battering the same old issues day after day, and bringing up past hurts to justify their present complaints. Under these circumstances, one spouse often feels overwhelmed and, like my tree, overloaded to the breaking point. They are likely to lash out, or simply shut down in order to keep from cracking under such a heavy load.
A better way is to set a rule for your disagreements: One issue per argument. This simple thing can help keep your minds focused on trying to understand each other and seeking a solution to one problem, instead of swirling around the same conflicts over and over again without any resolution or dumping a load of bricks all at one time. Maybe you are the one who finds yourself saving up all your perceived hurts for the past months and unloading them all when you only meant to ask your spouse to come to Back to School Night. Maybe no matter what you are fighting about, you always seem to bring up that really hurtful episode seven years ago. If you are, then before you offer any criticism, complaint, or correction, make yourself a promise that you will deal with that one issue, and not overload your spouse. Try to take care of issues as they arise, either by choosing to let a hurt go, or by talking about issues that need resolved as soon as they happen, instead of gathering ammunition for an ambush.
If you feel that you are the one who is getting overloaded during disagreements, then practice phrases that may help diffuse the situation. You could say something like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Can we talk about _______ another time and just deal with what happened last night?” or “I start feeling like you will never forgive me when you keep bringing that up. Do we need to talk through that some more, or can we just move on? I don’t want it to keep coming between us.” Be honest when you think your branch is getting too heavy when your spouse is piling complaints on too heavily.
Most of us can handle working through one issue. Few of us can handle dozens of complaints and constant reminders of all our past wrongs. When couples keep disagreements focused on one issue at a time, they are more likely to resolve the problem…and less likely to break.