What can my wife and I do to change our quarreling?

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“What can my wife and I do to change our quarreling?” Ensign, Feb. 1977, 53–54

Every time my wife and I try to have a discussion, we end up quarreling. Neither of us likes this, but it continues to happen. We have tried to improve our communication skills, but it hasn’t diminished our quarrels. We don’t quite know what to do to change. What could be the problem?

G. Hugh Allred, professor of marriage and family counseling, Brigham Young University Everybody needs to feel worthwhile and important. Where we differ is in the way we try to get that feeling. And if we use the wrong way, we end up quarreling.

In a healthy family everyone feels love and respect for each other. All the children feel that their parents love them equally and that they should be respectful and cooperative in return. Because of this strong feeling of being important and worthwhile at home, children from such families usually feel confident outside the home—and so they’re cooperative and respectful in their daily lives.

However, in an unhealthy family everyone seems to be competing. Of course not all competition is unhealthy. But when children, unsure of their parents’ love, compete with each other or even with a parent, trying to get the top position, it is a sign that something is wrong. Often the only way family members can find to make themselves look good is to make someone else look bad. They come to believe that the only way they can be important and worthwhile is to always be right and to have everyone who disagrees with them be wrong. This makes it very hard for them to give in or to admit they’re wrong. They’re afraid that if they lose an argument they will not be loved and respected as much.

When such a person has a disagreement with his or her spouse in marriage, an argument is almost always the result.

Once a couple came to me because the husband always quarreled with his wife. He couldn’t stop doing it until he finally recognized his “faulty beliefs”—his beliefs that he had to win in order to be worthwhile and that he couldn’t win unless his wife lost. Ironically, he felt that he couldn’t be a worthwhile husband unless he acted this way, even though acting this way actually made the marriage unhappy for both of them.

The husband was only dimly aware of his problem, like most people who have faulty beliefs. But he gained more self-control as he began to see how his faulty beliefs had come to him in his childhood. He remembered how he had always made fun of and cut down his brothers and sisters in order to make them look wrong and make himself look right in his parents’ eyes. This had become a habit—which carried over into his marriage and was wrecking it.

He made several important steps to whip this problem. First, he became aware of his faulty beliefs. Knowing about them helped him notice when he was trying to prove someone else wrong for no real reason. Then he practiced talking differently to himself. He would tell himself, “I’m fooling myself when I think I have to be right to be important,” or “I’m a better husband when I don’t make my wife look wrong.” Saying these things helped him come to really believe them.

He also tried, whenever a problem came up, to put his mind to finding a solution rather than wasting his time proving that he was right and his wife was wrong.

He practiced treating his wife with respect, and he cooperated with her. He began to use “qualifiers” when he talked to his wife, like “I may change my mind, but right now I think …” and “I could be wrong, but it seems to me. …” More importantly, he began to believe it. He really could be wrong, and yet his wife and family (and everyone else) loved him and respected him just the same—if not more.

He had to use a lot of courage and self-discipline to keep trying to change until the old habits were broken and good new habits were set. It would have been easy to slip back into the old way of doing things by telling himself, “This time she really is wrong,” or “I can only be pushed so far.” His wife also encouraged and helped him by sincerely telling him things like, “I feel a lot closer to you when you don’t try to make me look wrong,” or “Thank you for being willing to see my side of things.”

Some individuals and couples need help from other people in order to see their problems clearly and get rid of their faulty beliefs. If you feel like you need help or advice, talk to the Lord in prayer and talk to your bishop or to a marriage counselor. Of course, neither your Father in heaven nor your fellowmen can help you unless you have a strong commitment to improve and the self-discipline to keep trying no matter how hard it gets. But as you do break down barriers of bad habits, you will find that the Spirit of the Lord can more easily enter into your home and make your marriage a happy, harmonious one.