How To Address Problems with Your Spouse the Right Way

How to address problems with your spouse photo of man and a woman holding hands and talking

Dear Selfless Esteem,
Sometimes I get so frustrated with my spouse. I guess that happens in every marriage, but how do I address the problem without starting an argument?
Rather Annoyed

Dear Rather Annoyed,

You’re right that couples get frustrated in every marriage. (╥﹏╥) But before I answer your question, I’ll address safety. If there’s domestic abuse or a threat of abuse, I advise you to have a safety plan, including emergency numbers, such as 911 for imminent danger. The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) can link you to resources, such as domestic violence help centers, shelters, or legal aid agencies. (See “Domestic Abuse Victim Is On the Fence.”)

If domestic abuse isn’t an issue, please read on. I’ll divide your question and my answer into two parts: how to address problem with your spouse and how to avoid an argument.

How to Address Problems with Your Spouse

1. First, get your frustration and anger out before addressing the issue with your spouse. Some examples of healthy outlets for expressing anger are the following: creating art, discussing your emotions in individual therapy, and writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal. (See “Top 5 Tips for Anger Management” and Mental Health America’s worksheet on Managing Frustration and Anger.) Additionally, exercise is a good way to release the energy anger produces (after consulting your physician).

Then, be sure you’re completely calm before you attempt to bring up the subject. People commonly think they’re ready to talk when they’re starting to calm down, but that’s actually when their emotions can quickly flare up again.

2. Check your spouse’s readiness to discuss the issue. You know your spouse: if they’re not a morning person, don’t bring it up first thing in the morning. And generally, the end of a long workday isn’t an opportune time either.

One idea is to follow Queen Esther’s example (Esther 5:5-8) by waiting till your spouse feels relaxed after a nice, full meal. Then mention that you’d like to discuss something and agree upon a time (e.g. schedule it for the next day at the same time when you know their needs have been met and they’re relaxed).

Man and woman sitting on the couch talking

3. Prepare what you’re going to say in the most diplomatic way. As you compose your message, have an attitude of gratitude to decrease negative feelings. For instance, maybe you’re agitated because your spouse is sensitive, but by the same token, you appreciate your spouse’s compassion and attentiveness to you and your children’s needs.

4. Be genuinely kind as you address the issue in the following steps.

  a.  State your observation, e.g. “The other day, when you asked for my help, you had a sharp, irritable tone of voice, and this wasn’t the first time.”

  b. Succinctly and gently express your thoughts on that, e.g. “I think it affects the mood of our home.”

  c. Acknowledge what may be the cause, e.g. “I understand the recent, additional workload at your job is stressful.”

  c. Listen to their response with empathy and without interrupting.

  d. Make your request, e.g. “I want to help, but please ask me in a respectful way; otherwise, I start to feel irritable too.”

How to Avoid Arguments with Your Spouse

Here are 5 tips to help avoid arguments and resentment.

1. Don’t make assumptions. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing the best they can right now.

2. Think about ways you can be more supportive even if you think you’re giving 110%—because maybe what you’re giving isn’t particularly what your spouse needs right now; thus, your spouse isn’t receptive and is overlooking your efforts.

3. Don’t get defensive or take things personally. If the discussion starts to get heated, take a break and give yourselves time to calm down and think rationally so that you don’t say or do anything you’ll regret.

4. Have reasonable expectations. Remember your spouse is just a fallible human being, who’s vulnerable to fatigue and negative thoughts and emotions.

5. Consider couples therapy and seek a competent therapist, who can facilitate communication about any deeper, underlying issues—and then table those topics until the therapy sessions. (See “What Is Wise Counsel and Good Therapy?” and “Why You Need To Get a Therapist ASAP.”)

You may also be interested in “The Most Helpful Thing To Do When You’re Annoyed With Your Spouse” by Fatherly, “4 Ideas to Revive Your Marriage,” and “The Honeymoon’s Over, Now What?” And please see these FAQ’s about Christian Marriage by Pastors Deborah and Tim Clark of The Church on the Way.

Last but not least, ask God for help (Psalm 121:1-2). And remember that no spouse can love us as much as God does. (For more details, see the posts, “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem,” “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.”) Spend time with Him in prayer and receive His unconditional love. ❤(ˆ‿ˆԅ)

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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